Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Great Man is Dead

The satiric faux-journalism of last week’s post here on The Archdruid Report was meant as a bit of edged humor at the expense of the overinflated self-image of humanity that’s been fostered by the cult of progress, and I’m glad to say that most of my readers took it as such. I fielded a few quibbles, but most of the commenters took the joke in good part.
I was amused to note that a noticeable fraction of the hilarity focused on the use of “frack” as a swear word. No, it wasn’t a Battlestar Galactica reference; those who are familiar with fracking—that is, hydrofracturing technology, the latest popular excuse for ignoring the narrowing walls of industrial society’s increasingly harsh destiny—will understand the usage at once. Since fracking is a penetrative act carried out with no thought for anything but immediate gratification, it certainly counts as a profanity, and I’d like to encourage my readers to use it in everyday conversation whenever strong language is called for.  For that matter, a good case can be made that those who think it’s appropriate to treat Mother Earth that way deserve to be called “motherfrackers.”

All jokes aside, though, last week’s post also drew on what was once a traditional way of talking about deep changes in the inner life of peoples and civilizations. That’s why, for example, the Greek scholar Plutarch wove a very similar story into his dialogue on the twilight of the ancient Greek oracles.

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, a character in the dialogue claims, passengers aboard a ship sailing from Greece to Italy heard a mysterious voice calling out from the island of Paxi, telling the ship’s steersman to pass on word to the coastlands further on that Great Pan was dead. The steersman, an Egyptian named Thamus, relayed the message as directed, and a great cry of lamentation went up from the uninhabited shore. Word of this got to the emperor, who was himself a serious student of mythology; he referred the matter to a committee of experts, who determined that the Pan who had just died was the third of that name, the son of Penelope by Hermes (or, in a scandalous variant, by all of her suitors during Odysseus’ absence—thus the name given the horned and horny god).

There’s a fine irony, and probably a deliberate one, in Plutarch’s choice of an Egyptian as the message bearer in his story. The Egyptians of Plutarch’s time were no strangers to dead gods; Osiris, one of the greatest of the Egyptian deities, was believed to have died twice, and only rose from the dead the first time, a detail that apparently did nothing to interfere with his performance of his divine duties. That’s commonplace for divinities: pilgrims to Tsubaki Grand Shrine in Japan, for example, can visit the grave of Sarutahiko no Okami, whom believers in Shinto consider to be the chief of all the earthly kami (divine powers, more or less) and still very much a living presence. Two millennia ago, in much the same spirit, pilgrims on Crete paid their respects at the grave of Zeus and then offered prayers and sacrifices to him as an immortal god.

All this came to mind a few weeks back when the news carried a belated silly season story about the campus atheist organizations at a couple of American universities. The groups in question celebrated Halloween by setting up “god graveyards” full of paper tombstones naming allegedly defunct deities, along with signage hinting broadly that the Christian god was next. The smug and self-satisfied ignorance that’s practically the trademark of evangelical atheism these days was very much on display here:  the deities consigned to these cemeteries, for example, included quite a few who are still being worshipped, some of them by tens of millions of people. (Of course those tens of millions don’t include many white middle class American college students, and doubtless that’s why the sophomore atheists involved in the stunt didn’t get around to noticing them.)

It also seems to have escaped the attention of the graveyard-builders that Christians believe that their god died once already, and wasn’t noticeably slowed down by the experience. As noted above, gods do that sort of thing all the time. This is true, curiously enough, whether you think of gods as bodiless superhuman beings, archetypes of the collective unconscious,  narrative figures portraying the highest ideals of a culture, or what have you: death simply isn’t a great inconvenience to deities. It’s only human beings who find mortality awkward to deal with.

And abstract representations of humanity, like the one whose rise, fall, and wretched end was the subject of last week’s post? That’s another matter still.

Every human society has its own collective image of what human beings are like, which serves more or less the same role in that society as the ego or self-image does in the psychology of the individual. That image is always a polymorphous thing, subject to constant redefinition in the competing interests of subgroups within the society, and it’s also subject to changes driven by historical cycles as well as to something not far removed from genetic drift. Still, variants of the collective human image in any human society always have a close family resemblance with one another, and very often a set of common features that aren’t subject to change, no matter how much debate piles up around other aspects of the image.

The imaginary figure of Man, conqueror of Nature, parodied in last week’s post is exactly such an image. For the last few centuries, that has been the dominant image of humanity in Western industrial societies. As mentioned in an earlier post in this sequence, Man isn’t you, or me, or anyone else who ever lived or ever will live.  He’s a fictional character who plays the central role in the grand mythological narrative at the core of the civil religion of progress, the mythic hero whose destiny it is to conquer Nature and march gloriously onward and upward to the stars.

To refer to the abstraction Man as the protagonist of a hero myth is not merely a figure of speech, by the way. In a brilliant book, Narratives of Human Evolution, paleoanthropologist Misia Landau showed that the stories that have been spun around “the ascent of Man”—think about that phrase for a bit—are in fact classic hero tales embracing all the conventions of that very distinctive genre, complete with all the standard motifs that are traced out in studies of the subject by Joseph Campbell and other scholars of mythology.  She examines the classic nineteenth- and twentieth-century accounts of human evolution in detail, and shows how in every case, the facts unearthed by scientific research were hammered into shape to fit a far from scientific narrative.

It probably needs repeating that the narrative in question is not evolution. The evolution of species is one of the facts unearthed by scientific research; in the case of the hominids, in particular, the rambling family tree that led from East African forest apes to the author and readers of this blog has been worked out in ample detail, backed up by an assortment of fossils and artifacts impressive enough that the term “missing link” dropped out of use a long time ago.  No, what’s happened is that the normal process by which a successful species adapted to challenging conditions and spread beyond its original ecosystem has been rewritten as the central myth of a civil religion and used to redefine the entire two million years or so of hominid existence in the image of the last three centuries of western history.

If you want to see the resulting mythology in full flower, all you need to do is pick up a book by an evangelical atheist who tries to deal with human history—Carl Sagan’s Cosmos is a good if well-aged example. It’s not just that every human society and historical epoch that comes up for discussion is judged according to its contribution to Man’s conquest of Nature, though this is generally the case; it’s the way that the conquest of Nature, or more precisely our conquest of Nature, the specific way of conquering Nature that modern industrial society thinks it’s engaged in, is treated as the only normal and natural goal of human aspiration, to such an extent that any deviation from that agenda has to be explained. Thus Sagan, in the book just cited, devotes an extended passage to trying to figure out why the ancient Roman world never got around to having an industrial revolution. The suggestion that they might have had better uses for their time and resources, needless to say, doesn’t enter into the discussion at all.

There’s a rich irony in the fact that very often, even those who hate Man, conqueror of Nature, and everything he stands for are as convinced as any Carl Sagan fan could be that this cultural construct, this abstract and arbitrary fictional character who represents nothing more solid than one civilization’s currently popular notion of human nature and destiny, is the simple and literal truth about our species. Those of my readers who’ve spent time in the peak oil blogosphere will have read plenty of posts and comments describing humanity as “the ecocidal ape,” helplessly programmed by its genetic heritage to blunder along its current path toward imminent extinction. This is the same myth of progress we’ve discussed here so often, changed only by having the black and white hats switched around. Man the enemy of Nature remains as central, strong-jawed, and omnipotent as in the more popular versions of the tale; it’s just that in this version he’s the villain and victim of the piece rather than its hero.

Now of course those who raise ethical questions about Man the conqueror of Nature as an image of human nature and destiny have a point—is it wise, or for that matter sane, to envision collective humanity as a megalomaniac in jackboots whose sole purpose in existing is to bully the entire universe into complying with his whims?—but there’s a deeper point at issue. The vast majority of humans, across the vast majority of the time our species have been around, have lived in relative balance and harmony with the ecosystems around them.  The vast majority of the exceptions have taken place either when humans reached a part of the planet they hadn’t settled before, when humans were in the early stages of adopting some new means of subsistence and hadn’t worked the bugs out yet, or when environmental changes driven by planetary forces have destabilized existing human ecologies and left the survivors scrambling to find some new means of subsistence. Other species in similar situations undergo the same kinds of crisis, and then find their way back to balance—and so do we.

It so happens that all of us were born and raised, and are descended from a dozen generations of people who were born and raised, during a period of drastic instability caused by the second factor just listed: some members of our species stumbled onto a new means of subsistence, which we haven’t yet figured out how to use in a sustainable manner, and at this point almost certainly never will. This sort of thing has happened many times before to our species, and to countless other species as well. One of the core features of our predicament, though, is that this unusual set of conditions is all any of us has ever known, and since human beings are noticeably less sapient than the moniker of our species would suggest, many of us have taken the temporary state of instability that’s dominated the last few centuries, and projected it onto the far from blank screen of human history and the universe as a whole.

One core dimension of the crisis of our age, in other words, is that our sense of the meaning and destiny of our species is well past its pull date. The image of Man the conqueror of Nature was adaptive, in the strict Darwinian sense, during the brief age of extravagance that arrived when we first figured out how to break into the planet’s cookie jar of fossil sunlight. Those who embraced that image prospered and reproduced their kind, both in the straightforward biological sense and in the subtler, cultural sense by which success attracts imitators. Now that the rate at which fossil fuels can be extracted from the planet is running up against hard geological limits, and the net energy yield from such exercises is stuck in a remorseless decline, the image of Man the conqueror of Nature has stopped being adaptive, but a significant lag time has opened up between that change in circumstances and the recognition that it’s time to find a less dysfunctional way to understand who we are and what we’re doing on this planet.

That’s a common challenge in individual psychotherapy, or so I’m told, and it’s certainly a challenge in the training of the personality that’s a crucial part of the spirituality I practice.  People reliably cling like grim death to the most disastrously dysfunctional self-images, and defend them fiercely against the suggestion that they could see themselves in a different way. Our need for a sense of stable identity is so powerful that many of us would rather be wretchedly miserable than risk the leap into the unknown that surrendering a self-image always involves. One of the great challenges of the teacher in an initiatory school—and I suspect that psychotherapists see things the same way—is to find ways to encourage students to get to the point at which they’re willing to risk treating their self-concepts as concepts, abstractions created by the mind, rather than simply the way things are.

The difficulty we face in the modern industrial world is that very few people have gotten to the point at which they’re willing to risk this same shift on a collective scale. There’s a voice calling out to all of us from the island of Paxi, announcing that Great Man is dead, but few are listening and fewer still show any willingness to carry the message to those who are waiting to hear it.  Thus we’ve circled back around to the place where this series of posts began, Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God, for it was that death—less metaphorically, the collapse of Christianity as the foundation of Western cultures—that made the manufacture of Man the conqueror of Nature as a collective human identity both possible and (in a certain sense) necessary.

The problem with Nietzsche’s proposed solution, in turn, was that it simply postponed for a little while the problem it was meant to address. The Overman, the free human being who flings himself into the abyss of a meaningless universe to give it meaning through a sacrificial act of endless self-overcoming, was never much more than a pale reflection of the Christian god, who descended into the universe of matter and human incarnation on much the same mission. It was a brave attempt but not a particularly smart one, and the results, both for Nietzsche and for the European society he proposed to put on new foundations, were far from good.

Dying, as it turns out, isn’t the only thing that gods do easily and human beings find considerably more awkward. Nietzsche may have been right when he wrote that “one must have chaos within one to give birth to a dancing star;” he certainly had the chaos, and arguably gave birth to the star, in the form of some of the most brilliant of all German prose and some of the most challenging philosophical writings in any language. Still, it’s probably fair to extend the metaphor a bit further, and suggest that the radiation emitted by his newborn star proceeded to fry his brain and reduce one of the keenest minds of Europe to the status of catatonic vegetable. As any astrophysicist could have told him, human beings are simply not equipped to give birth to stars.

In less metaphorical language, the ramshackle structures of the human mind tend to break down in predictable ways when pushed beyond the tasks for which evolution has equipped them. The plunge into nihilism I’ve discussed in several recent posts is one of these predictable malfunctions. In Nietzsche’s case, that ended up taking the form of a mental illness that, though it’s been blamed on syphilis, had all the symptoms and progressive course of acute schizophrenia, paranoiac at the time of his psychotic break in Turin and phasing gradually into catatonia before his death in 1900. In the case of European society as a whole, a strong case could be made that much the same thing happened in the half century or so after Nietzsche’s time:  the collapse of Europe into a maelstrom of war, delusion, and mass murder over the decades that followed the continent-wide psychotic break of 1914 was only brought to an end by the exceptionally harsh therapy of Russian and American tanks and bombs. 

In effect, Western cultures in the nineteenth century replaced their traditional monotheism with a newly minted monanthropism—a belief system that flattened out the rich diversity of humanity into a single abstract figure, Man, and loaded that figure with most of the titles and attributes of the divinity he was expected to replace. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century writings that referenced our species almost always made use of that capitalized abstraction, and proclaimed him the lord of creation, the goal of evolution, the inheritor of the cosmos, and so on through the whole litany of self-important hogwash that surrounded the human project in those days. At that time, as I’ve suggested, it was adaptive in a purely pragmatic sense; it helped to encourage the rapid growth of industrial systems during the brief historical epoch when abundant fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources made such systems possible. The downside of the experiment was that it left very few barriers in place to the barbarism of reflection, and those barriers fell down promptly once kicked by jackboots.

Still, the era when that expedient seemed to work is over, terminated with extreme prejudice by the relentless realities of dwindling resource stocks and an increasingly unstable biosphere. Whatever form the Second Religiosity of our age happens to take, whatever ways we and our descendants cobble together to counter the barbarism of reflection and keep the unsteady structures of human thought from the same plunge into chaos that left Nietzsche babbling incoherently with his arms around the neck of a beaten horse, among the basic requirements of the time before us are giving the conception of Man the conqueror of Nature a decent burial, and finding a way to imagine ourselves that has some relation to the realities of the human condition in a world on the far side of a failed industrial project.


On a different though related theme, I’m delighted to report that the industrial-music artist Laughlyn has just released an online “album” on the theme of my post An Elegy for the Age of Space. Give it a listen here.


k-dog said...

Finding one's identity through beliefs and thought is a dead end.

Abstractions and concepts are no more than electrical patterns of biological software which do not define who we are. We must see ourselves as the way we truly are; as animals who live in an ecosystem that gives us life. As animals who live and die in a greater society who's only true worth is to the degree we contribute to the long term health and happiness of our brothers, sisters and unborn children. Do we live in a way that carries the human experiment into the future or not?

Nietzsche thought that the Overman freed of confining mysticism and false belief would realize greatness not realizing that by killing god men would make the mistake of assuming themselves to be gods. And if man could control the laws of the universe as a true god could then conquering nature would make sense. Though the other creatures who share the planet with us would not see it that way.

But man has no control over the laws of nature. Exploit the laws of nature we can but change them we cannot do. Men cannot become gods. The Overman believed he could conqueror nature drunk as he was on an ego freed from superstition but unable to see that free from superstition man became his own superstition.

Avery said...

Over the decades, the evangelists of the civil religion of progress have learned to conceal their message in more wholesome, and vaguer, language. Carl Sagan had to tone it down to appeal to the remaining believers, in an age when minor collapses had already begun. If you really want the full fire and brimstone of the original message of progress, go back to its heyday, like the future predicted in H. G. Wells' The Outline of History:

"We know enough today to know that there is infinite room for betterment in every human concern. Nothing is needed but collective effort."

"There will be little drudgery in this better-ordered world. Natural power harnessed in machines will be the general drudge."

That book sold over two million copies in its day, which is unbelievable given the number of pleasure-readers at the time. It painted a hopeful portrait of history as Mankind emerging from the lower animals to control every aspect of the Earth. Wells' language remains lovely today, but the faith he places in the Natural Progress of Man seems to lose some appeal in 2013.

It's not a completely worthless book, though... it inspired as a response G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man, which has eclipsed it in lasting fame.

John Michael Greer said...

K-dog, and yet you've just defined your own identity in terms of a set of beliefs and thoughts; the claim "human beings are animals," for example, is a belief and a thought, and your justifications for that claim are also beliefs and thoughts. The human condition isn't that easily escaped!

Avery, good! Yes, that's the sort of thing I was talking about when I referenced the pompous hogwash that used to surround the human project in Wells' day.

Ares Olympus said...

I love so much of this topic, but troubled too, at least what comes to mind is the idea of "life lessons", where we reflect on single incidents we experience and extrapolate them into the future as general principle. One futurist I know has fallen in love with the idea of "unlearning", his way to embrace the singularity future where the speed of change keeps increasing every year, and so we all simply have to forget the past, and relearn optimal ways to live in the new circumstances, and have no attachment to what worked before.

I've never been able to dent his optimism by my neomalthusean fears, but even that makes me curious. I mean first I realize I want him to be right, and almost as addicted to the sam fixation as him, I'm just more like the poker player wondering when my luck will run out, while he's sure he's figure out how to beat the house for good.

Addiction is a key idea for me. Addiction is irrational, and the rational mind can see through it if we look, but the payoff of success is too hard to resist.

Perhaps we need to better use our futurists, put them in isolated environments and have them use "necessity as the mother of invention" as mad scientists take away the modern trappings one by one, until the futurist finally break down and admit they were lying to themselves. Then perhaps their good ideas would really blossom and they would save civilization?

But seriously, until things break, and you have to see what happens, how do you unravel society in practice before we really need it?

Thought experiments are great, but addicts usually need something more solid to push again.

Robert Martini said...

John Michael Greer,

I am glad to see you completed that circle. Reminds me of the chapter on matter in Green Wizardry.

"In the case of European society as a whole, a strong case could be made that much the same thing happened in the half century or so after Nietzsche’s time: the collapse of Europe into a maelstrom of war, delusion, and mass murder over the decades that followed the continent-wide psychotic break of 1914 was only brought to an end by the exceptionally harsh therapy of Russian and American tanks and bombs.

It almost sounds as if you are hinting that your next few post the Death of Man, may bring us out of the fire and into the frying pan similar to 1914. It will be interesting to see your take on this. I have read quite a few military reports, one by the German military talking about the potential for a massive resource war in the Caspian Sea area over the last high energy return oil. Speaking of energy return it seems you are on the money that the world has reached a peak in net energy.

Apparently the annual co2 growth rate (rough approximation of all human made combustion reactions on earth) has slowed in 2012 for the first time in years. The researchers with a bias towards progress speculate this is because of renewable energy, hydroelectric dams and efficiency gains. However, I think it is much more likely the entire world energy supply has reached a hard limit on annual production of energy and the lowest hanging fruit in the entire orchard has been picked over.

On a more spiritual note I have been drawn more and more to Tibetan Buddhism. It is a very ecologically friendly philosophy, because it has to be to have kept intact the very fragile ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau. I am not sure if a wave of Buddhism will be the second religiosity, I seriously doubt it. Sadly, with the hipster and yuppie types I see in college nowadays I think you may be right that Marxism will become fashionable again. Sadly the opposite of a bad idea in usually a bad idea. I think a wave of Buddhism like philosophy won't appear until we have damaged out ecology until sacred values beyond rationalism is the only thing that can save it. As for myself I may have found a niche in forestry. At least some parts of that livelihood are part of the natural flow of daily sunlight rather than the more ancient variety.

k-dog said...

"K-dog, and yet you've just defined your own identity in terms of a set of beliefs and thoughts; the claim "human beings are animals," for example, is a belief and a thought, and your justifications for that claim are also beliefs and thoughts. The human condition isn't that easily escaped!"

I'm not going to agree, self evident facts are not beliefs any more than gravity is. They are perceptions. The problem is when one moves away from obvious and self evident truth. That is where trouble begins.

I do respect where you are going. For instance the statement that we both will die and leave this world is obvious unless you want to get ridiculous and play with definitions. But it does move away from the self evident, yes. The fact that we are animals is self evident. The supposition that we might be more than just animals is a belief but is not inconsistent with my original claim that we are animals. We bleed just like they do.

You are right to say the human conditions is not easily escaped. I share that belief with you but it does not define who I am.

Regardless of what I believe I am the same physical being subject to the same laws of nature. My weight does not change nor do any other physical characteristics change according to what I believe. My eye color remains the same. My breathing may speed up or slow down as may my heart rate and other physical changes may manifest but these are reactions to what I believe, behaviours and nothing more. Fundamentally I remain the same organism. Thinking does not change who I am. Actions and the expression of thought can interact with the universe but thought by itself does not alter what I fundamentally am regardless of what I think.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is the antithesis of my claim as is the singularity advocated by Ray Kurzweil. Our society is full of people who claim we are like gods and I contend such nonsense threatens our existence as a species. We can't be in harmony with the earth if we don't correctly apprehend our place in it and if we pretend we have special powers we don't have. The idea that we can conquer nature came from not appreciating our proper place in the cosmos and the madness continues.

Is that a belief or a fact?

I don't think that is an easy question to answer but I'll go with fact.

Philosopher said...

The best available explanation of Nietzsche’s disease is not that he suffered from syphilis or schizophrenia, but that he had an inherited neurological disease (CADASIL, see: "The neurological illness of Friedrich Nietzsche” This hypothesis explains Nietzsche’s headaches and visual problems already during his childhood and his later depressions and ultimate mental illness. (It also explains the early death and similar symptoms of Nietzsche’s father.)
Nietzsche’s disease was not caused by his philosophy. On the contrary, with an heroic effort of will Nietzsche was able to develop and write down his philosophy in spite of his relentlessly developing disease.

Cherokee Organics said...


The Roman Emperor Tiberius led a complex and difficult life, to say the least. He appears to have mostly done what he was told, was exceptionally capable, and yet found that the fruits of his labours were not to his taste.

If Gods can die, I was wondering whether they can change? I don’t really know, but I had a little flash that they seem to provide an unbroken link with the past and that may make change a difficult proposition. Certainly the narrative of man the conqueror of nature is toast.

I had to laugh at the bit in this week’s essay about "spreading beyond their original ecosystem" as my observation here is that other species have achieved this feat as well. It is really not that notable from an ecological perspective. Rats have been on my mind of recent times!

I have had a rough few days as Tuesday evening I came down sick with some mysterious illness. I vomited every half hour for well over 12 hours and by late the next morning I was hospitalised with a drip and a jab of anti-nausea medication. I can well see that people used to literally drop dead as I’m in a bit of shock at how quickly I went from healthy to not very well at all. I am much better now and on the mend.

I’m thinking of adding Black Horehound to the herb garden here. It is not readily available Down Under though, but will keep my eyes open.

Hi Juhana,

I think we’re on the same page, I’m just a little bit confused because here the right and the left also pursue globalisation and immigration policies. That’s why I’m always saying it is a pointless paradigm. Do something unexpected instead!

The facts are that once you exceed the carrying capacity of your ecology (and Finland’s is very fragile) then you have a problem. The same thing is true here too.

Just for your interest, the Ford Motor Company announced recently that they were going to cease manufacturing of motor vehicles here. Well, General Motors (Holden) have also recently announced that they too will cease manufacturing here. The reasons given for the decisions (I believe) were that the government refused to support the industry financially.

Yet for some reason the government has decided they will bail out Qantas (airline).

It is never just the main manufacturers, but all of their suppliers and support companies etc. Sad.



gentilom said...

Hello again JMG. I am Ursachi Alexandru from Romania. This is my new account.

From what I know, Carl Sagan was a declared agnostic, not atheist. Still, it is hard to ignore the religious overtone of his ideas. I know it had me seduced for a while.

Speaking of which, I know you're gonna love this:

Odin's Raven said...

By some barbaric reflection the life of spirit appears to be not only projected but also parodied in matter.

People used to aspire to the Heavens, now they want to go to the stars. They used to believe in deities and demons, now they encounter extra-terrestrials. They used to quest for the Holy Grail, now they seek technologies. A spiritual state is misinterpreted as a physical location or object.

Spirit has been replaced by Energy. The Holy Spirit has become petroleum. An outpouring of spirit is now of less interest than the discovery of an oil field. The Paraclete has become Petroleum. A dearth of Spirit is now less feared than a shortage of oil. The Trinity has been parodied as the sources of fuel, wood, coal and oil. Nuclear power is of the Devil.

The Platonic Forms appear distorted in matter, reflected through the mind of Man. The Image of God became the Ape of God and then the Man Ape.

blogmaster said...

Congratulations on the article, John , I enjoy your thoughts ...
Some comments from the point of "European " view : I know a little German army report , they warn of that "democracy is in danger" among other causes by the peakoil . I was calling attention an interview in a newspaper of Barcelona Luuk Van Liddelaar , the right hand of Herman Van Rompuy (President of the European Commission) , this person, the qual access to circles of power in the European Union , speaks openly of "managing our decline with dignity ." So the information of a radical change or restricted to a few futuristic , but it is relatively well known , perhaps not so much for the average citizen.
In a quick look in my own district, I can see how it has fallen 40% traffic has risen is unemployment to 23% and one of the largest industries being installed is a sprawling modern scrapyard ( disassemble cars).

It is very useful reflections futurists ( sensible reflections) , they can create ad hoc tools for when we need them , the lifeboats are not built to navigate the evolution of its construction.

Sorry if I do not strictly to the line of the article, but I find it interesting that you know what is happening here.



Kutamun said...

"Lotophages "

I become obsessed by sacred geometries 
an end in themselves ,
 refusebto listen to the milk of starry reason ,
 refused to move on ,
like a radio wave 
across an attractive city, 
for all the worlds coins,
 utterly doomed. ! 
And so forth it went thanks J.M , enjoyed this Wagnerian Rng Cycle very much, cant wait for the next one
For you i will break with my custom of only speakimg to Denizens of the Crumbling American Empire in rhyming couplets !.... Oh thats right, i am one !

Cheers Mate

Andy Brown said...

I've always found it an interesting irony that humans consider themselves to be so plastic and given to self-invention, but are also so profoundly conservative. They say that any intellectual paradigm shift only happens when its generation of defenders finally die off.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about teaching cultural anthropology was that it involved so much un-learning by the students. And leaving aside its many flaws, an anthropology class (as taught by my generation) was often the first place that students were confronted with a strong critique of the Great Chain of Being and the myth of Progress.

Nestorian said...

Your equating of the death of Jesus of Nazareth with the death of the gods of mythology ignores the Judeochristian doctrine of the incarnation: The idea that Jesus of Nazareth combined a fully human nature and a fully divine nature into the unity of a single Person. It is only the human nature that saw death, rose again, and is now seated at the right hand of the father. The divine nature is not, and was never, subject to death.

None of the deaths of mythological gods are comprehended in the context of such a metaphysical distinction.

Twilight said...

In previous collapses, how typical is it that such a new collective image of self emerged prior to general collapse? Or is it something that is part and parcel of a developing new spirituality?

Primarily what I'm getting at is whether this is something that could be expected before full collapse (whatever that even is), or something that would likely arise later from the ashes?

Yupped said...

"Our need for a sense of stable identity is so powerful that many of us would rather be wretchedly miserable than risk the leap into the unknown that surrendering a self-image always involves". Agree, but this decision to be wretchedly miserable rather than risk changing is a largely unconscious process, rather than a considered decision.

The evidence of the need to change is all around us, if we care to look. But there are powerful inner forces that stop us looking too closely. And as you've often said those inner forces and habits are easily manipulated by people with agendas. It's taken me years of inner work to be able to see the way that fear and habit and ego and all those things work in me. And I'm still not able to be completely comfortable with them or to fully control them.

So waking up is a process not an event, both for individuals and certainly for whole societies, and quite a long process at that. I keep coming back to the life of my parent's generation, who lived through the dramas and carnage of the 20th century in Europe. This experience did lead to the snuffing-out of European colonialism, one particularly silly phase in the life of man the conqueror. But most of the survivors of that generation didn't go back to nature so much as they went back to the suburbs and shops and oil-fueled economic growth. I know my Dad felt like he kind of deserved a life of relative comfort after the rigors of his early life in the 1930s and 1940s. So in response to the implosion of colonialism in the first half of the twentieth century, Europeans built another unsustainable civilization in the second half - more peaceful, decent, etc, but still unsustainable. But after all that war and trauma, who could blame them for wanting it? And this is just one example of the ups and downs and round and rounds of it all. I've been reading that phrase "today's problems are yesterday's solutions" a lot recently. Seems to describe this process well.

blue sun said...

These lag times have always fascinated me. I see them in the natural world as well- physical as well as cultural. They seem to be yet another phenomenon we gloss over and never think about in modern culture. I remember as a child, who of course learned about the four seasons in school, wondering why the warmest time of the year came significantly later than the strongest rays of the sun and the coldest time of year significantly later than the shortest day of the year. It is fascinating to ponder when you think about it.

I also remember trying to wrap my head around why none of my teachers ever bothered to get into a topic that was so obviously fascinating. And if it has to do with the thermodynamics of the earth's atmosphere, we certainly never covered the topic in my engineering classes. I can only hope that somebody explained it to the meteorology students.

There are many parallels in other aspects of life and, as you point out, certainly our culture also. I still sometimes wonder why we never seem to talk about these phenomena of lags we see appearing throughout nature, but I can only conclude that it has something to do with what our culture deems important.

Joseph Nemeth said...

I'm sure this kind of thing isn't restricted to Camden. Two things of note in this article: the decline of US cities and lifestyle is well underway, and it's taking place silently and unremarked.

Luckymortal said...

You've made very clear that the old religious sensibility provided advantages to its adherents that allowed them to flourish and out-compete. At its base, this advantage seems to be a permission or even encouragement to exploit anything within reach without pause, reflection or compassion. It seems you can trace this sensibility and permission to exploit back to the yoke and the slave.

While I've long found the idea that societies with "ecotechnic" tools would gain an advantage, this series has left me wondering how-- even in a "powerdown" future--a new sensibility burdened with ecological awareness and compassion could possibly compete.

If jack-booted Great Man, as you point out, is the descendent of 2000 years of jack-booted paternal gods with their feet on the necks 2000 years of cultures who lacked our requisite capacity for cruelty, how should peak anything stand in the way?

Won't this sensibility just reinvent itself as the moral authority for a new, crueler age of slavery and animal exploitation, enhanced by the lessons of industrialism? Don't we already see this happening?

What possible advantage could those who follow the new sensibility possibly gain against this?

Won't ecotechnic, gaiaist societies leading regenerative lives just become the engines for new waves of exploitive civilizations, as they clearly have in the past?

Justin Wade said...

I am pretty sure K-dog has no escape with the human condition, if you look at his picture and name, its pretty clear that k-dog is a canine. Part of what I love about the discussion here is that there are so many people and dogs from all walks of life.

On to the larger themes - in terms of the second religiosity, what do you think of the notion that meditation is likely to be at the center of whatever religious practice arises?

In recent years, there have been a flurry of scientific articles documenting that meditation can physically change your neural structure in the mind and nerves in the body, affects how your cognitive networks (top down and bottom up - Austin) function, and some of the most recent work says meditation affects gene expression similarly to exercise.

Point being, meditation is gaining more and more scientific credibility, its also gaining steam in therapy as an antidote to anxiety and depression, which means it has a widespread need. My thought is that since meditation is able to meet people on scientific terms, it is a bridge back to the spiritual. The interesting part is that the practice of meditation takes you over that bridge, most especially so if you do not intend to go over it or have any idea you are doing so.

I could see people getting into meditation for scientific reasons, and coming out into a spiritual awakening. I've speculated about this for a time, now I wonder what kind of wringer you would put it through.

Mary said...

A brief, but not total, aside from this week's theme. Once again I have good news from Maine, courtesy of our local weekly. Our small farmers have reached a peak in selling locally through CSAs and what-have-you. (I know our local supermarket features locally grown right across the street from the farmer's food stand!)Now they are looking to the past, at pre-BIGAG ways of food distribution. Seed money has been collected to start creating "food hubs," which will buy their produce at good prices for them and enable local storage, processing and distribution using economies of scale to keep prices affordable. The idea is that as fuel becomes increasingly scarce, shipping raw foods to Asian slave-laborers for processing, and then shipping processed foods back will continue to jack up BIG-AG food prices. Locally grown and processed will be competitive in such a scenario.

It always feels like a race to stay one step ahead of the descent. Luckily here in Maine, we never really reached very high up, and it has always been a state you "survive" in, so it's maybe less bruising a fall.

Here on my homefront, after much thought and research, I've decided to switch horse breeds to foundation morgan. They are genetically essentially half-arabians so can withstand higher temperatures, and from their other half the cold, very hardy, high endurance, small, easy keeping, powerful and even-tempered, family-type, small farmer horses that can "do it all," and barefoot to boot. They are a bit few and far between -- the 20th century brought the influx of outside blood to create refined "show" horses of a poor (imo) type. But there are original type and lines out there and I'm working toward acquiring a young mare for my future small breeding and training operation. The small farmers here moved away from morgans to large and small European draft horses. In a changing climate, I think foundation morgans and morgan-arab crosses will be a much better bet.

David James Peterson said...

The most recent of the Superman movies (Man of Steel) seems to show the Kryptonites (the people from Superman’s home planet) as victorious versions of “Man, Conqueror of Nature”. Their world appears to be a barren desert, like a version of Monument Valley in the US, just lots of fancy technological toys and no greenery. In the movie, the Kryptonites had tried to colonize other planets for thousands of years and having failed, retreated to their home world, which they then obliterate at the beginning of the movie. Later in the movie a group of surviving Kryptonites makes their way to Earth and deciding to make it their new home decide to Terraform it (or in this case Krypton-form it). Krypton-forming seemed to consist of flattening the Earth, and destroying all life on Earth, flattening block after block of each side of the planet while breaking up the ground, a very real fracking of the entire Earth,. They destroy all life on Earth to convert the Earth to the look and feel of their home (i.e. upon reaching a world, which changed them from normal beings into super human beings with super human powers, they then proceed to attempt to destroy the source of their new found super powers by laying waste to the planet in their continued campaign to conqueror nature, until stopped by Superman of course). To Man, Conqueror of Nature destroying Nature is not enough; one must infinitely expand and frack up every world that it finds. I’ve also failed to mention that the Kryptonites were all clones, each clone with a defined role in society (save Superman who was conceived in the natural way), because “Man, Conqueror of Nature” wants to conquer nature, including the nature in Man.

Jose Coces said...

I hope this doesn't sounds too off- topic, but, JMG, I wonder if you could tell us your story through all this. Your personal story, I mean, the shift of narratives you experienced over time. It might enlighten some of us that are going through our own shifts.

John Michael Greer said...

Ares, addiction is a good metaphor for the current obsession with fantasies of progress and human exceptionalism. Addicts are good at rationalizing the collapse of their lives; even when the consequences of addiction become blatant to everyone else, the addict insists that he's still in control and there's no problem at all. That's why this blog speaks to those who are willing to see the problem, and doesn't try to speak to those who won't do so.

Robert, Buddhism and forestry sounds like a good combination to me. As for the consequences of the next great psychotic break in Western society, yes, we'll be getting to that.

K-dog, not so fast. "Self-evident truth" is a common label for "a belief whose foundations I'm not willing to explore." Talk to any good epistemologist and you'll find out just how little is actually self-evident. As far as we know, other animals don't have the concept "animal," much less the ability to frame the really very abstract statement "I am an animal." Human beings do. That doesn't make us better than other living things; it does make us different, and require taking into account the role of figurative thinking even in what seem like direct perceptions of reality.

Philosopher, that's an interesting hypothesis, but I'm sure you know that coming up with new explanations for Nietzsche's madness has been a growth industry since about a week after his death. I don't claim to be a professional, but schizophrenia still looks more probable to me.

Cherokee, sorry to hear about your illness! Yes, people used to drop dead quite readily, and will more than likely do so again in the future ahead of us.

Gentilom aka Ursachi, oog. I wasn't that impressed with the original, for that matter.

Raven, that is to say, too many people are busy immanentizing the eschaton!

Blogmaster aka Toni, hmm! Now of course Europe has a long history of talking seriously about decline, but it's good to see the D-word getting some use again. There's a lot of decline in Europe's future, and attempting to manage it -- with or without dignity -- is a much more sane approach than the American conviction that it's all onward and upward forever.

Kutamun, somehow "Alles, was ist, endet; ein duestrer Tag daemmert den Goettern" comes forcefully to mind...

Andy, it's one of the greatest ironies of contemporary culture that so many people insist that they're open to change and to new ideas, when the only changes and new ideas they're willing to accept are those that rehash exactly what they're used to.

onething said...

I recall reading once that a Roman emperor was offered a labor saving invention, but rejected it because it would put too many people out of work.

John Michael Greer said...

Nestorian, every religion with a half-divine, half-human savior figure (and there were a lot of them) interpreted the relation between the divine and human halves in a different way. It would be as easy to insist on the special status of, say, Heracles, because of the distinctive way his sacrificial death on Mount Oeta was conceptualized by Greek theologians.

Twilight, based on previous examples, I'd expect the collective image to emerge slowly along the course of the collapse, and finish taking shape in the rubble.

Yupped, exactly!

Blue Sun, that's a fascinating point. A science of comparative lag time phenomena would be most interesting.

Joseph, exactly. This is the way the world ends, as Eliot pointed out: not with a bang, but a whimper.

Luckymortal, it's a mistake to try to impose moral judgments on sensibilities of the sort I'm discussing. Ordinary human savagery will no doubt go on under the new sensibility, just as it did under the old; the people who embraced the old sensibility in its early days, in the dying Roman world, were eager to see their new beliefs as the key to Utopia, and you see what happened. The limit to the damage human beings can do to the world isn't a function of religious sensibility, but rather a function of the exhaustion of the resources that make it possible for us to ignore, for a while, the consequences of our own short-sighted stupidity. That is to say, a passion for jackboots doesn't get you far when your Panzer divisions have no fuel!

Justin, the problem with meditation is that it's hard work, and only a certain fraction of human beings are willing to put in the effort. Even in those cultures that place meditation at the center of their religious praxis, it's mostly practiced by monks and other religious professionals. That said, it would be good to see it return to Western spirituality; Christianity used to be a hotbed of meditative practices, but most denominations ditched that a long time ago and are much the worse for the change.

Mary, delighted to hear it. I'll be getting back to practical issues of this sort shortly, so it's not even that far off topic.

David, fascinating. That's not a bad summary of the way that the "conquest of nature" delusion works out in imagination. In practice, of course, if you shove nature out the front door she walks calmly in through the back.

Jose, hmm. I'll consider it.

Seaweed Shark said...

This is all well-argued, but you haven't mentioned one of the most evocative appearances of "capital-M Man" -- Neil Armstrong's supposedly mucked up declaration on the moon. As I understand it, the line he was supposed to speak was "one small step for a man..." and Armstrong claimed that is what he said, but the murky recording concealed it, and different analyses of the recording have led to differing conclusions ever since. But in this interpretation, it is a most evocatively misconstrued line. Perhaps Armstrong unwittingly channeled the self-image of his entire civilization, at the moment of what was arguably its greatest techno-religious triumph -- as Geoff Manaugh put it in a recent interview, " if the whole thing had really just been an attempt at staging a real-life Caspar David Friedrich painting with seemingly endless Cold War funds to back it up."

Martin said...

When I read the title of this week's essay I thought, "Oh no, yet another eulogy for Mandela - great though he was - surely not here!" I was relieved to find that my first impression was incorrect.

Neo Tuxedo said...

"In more modern times, some have suggested a possible a naturalistic explanation for the myth. For example, Robert Graves (The Greek Myths) reported a suggestion that had been made by Salomon Reinach[29] and expanded by James S. Van Teslaar[30] that the hearers aboard the ship, including a supposed Egyptian, Thamus, apparently misheard Thamus Panmegas tethneke 'the all-great Tammuz is dead' for 'Thamus, Great Pan is dead!', Thamous, Pan ho megas tethneke.

I first heard that theory propounded by game designer and high-weirdness expert Kenneth Hite, in an installment of his now-defunct "Suppressed Transmission" column for Steve Jackson Games' Pyramid magazine -- an article about the folktale The King o'the Cats, to which Hite deems it relevant because:

In John Crowley's 1987 novel The Solitudes, "The King of the Cats" is explicitly related to "the Death of Pan" as recorded by Plutarch and interpreted by St. Augustine of Hippo as a shift in World Ages.

Food for thought; in the words of an English writer: "Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free."

([29] Reinach, in Bulletin des correspondents helleniques 31 (1907:5–19), noted by Van Teslaar.
[30] Van Teslaar, "The Death of Pan: a classical instance of verbal misinterpretation", The Psychoanalytic Review 8 (1921:180–83).)

The Primitive said...

You have hit on a point I try to explain all the time when people ponder why nothing seems to come from the quite heated battles that occur on the variety of grounds the internet provides. Any to all sides might have valid points, but the other side never seems to get it.

From my view in the cheap seats, it always seems to me that people miss that to hear the other side, you would have to be willing to confront that some fundamental belief about yourself might be wrong. Our beliefs define our very selves, and unless one is willing to openly accept that some part of self is based on something flawed or wrong, your well worded post simply ain't going to change diddly squat.

The thing I find so disheartening about this is that there seems to usually be no scale or range. Any challenge, no matter how small, is perceived as putting the entire self image in jeopardy. If one admits that something might be wrong, then the whole system can be put into question.

My perception is that we, at least here in the US (since that is where my experience is), are as poorly equipped as humans to deal with this as we have ever been. From your studies, would you concur with that statement, or am I being biased? Any advice on how to help folks to be willing to question their self image?

Travis said...

If one were to take a broader view of the universe, I think one could conclude that, at least from where we operate in this so thought physical and energetic plain of existence, the universe is predatory in nature. And that from the smallest to the largest, things will dominate all others if given a chance. The reason why a bacterium has not taken over the globe covering it in a amorphous goo, is that it is held in check by other bacterium's, and fungus, etc. That perhaps what humans are experiencing, during our short cosmic appearance, is an even shorter tipping of the scales in our seeming favor. That might make one think that perhaps these "religious sensibility's" are nothing more than the back drop of a grander constant truth of the returning (religion) to order from chaos and chaos from order.

Roger said...

JMG re your discussion with K-dog.

Maybe I'm not quite grokking what you guys are talking about.

But I've been to university and there seem to be a lot of people there dedicated to over-complicating matters. They seem to enjoy taking the plain sense of an issue, hurling a lot of impenetrable jargon at it, and in the end, instead of illuminating and imparting understanding, they accomplish the opposite.

For instance, how many dazed and confused undergrads are there that think they're inferior life forms because they have no earthly idea what Heidegger was talking about? Wasn't it Heidegger that said that making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy? No surprise then, when faced with his writings, that it doesn't seem to matter if you have the stamina of a canal horse, you have no hope of getting through the muck. Would that apply to epistemology?

No matter, philosophy isn't my bag. I'll leave it to those that study it. And I don't want to sound as if I'm mocking what I don't understand.

And I don't want to put words in k-dog's mouth. He is more than capable of barking for himself. But maybe what k-dog is trying to say in using the term "self evident" is that we have to accept some things just as they appear. After all time is limited and we have things to do.

Not to butter you up JMG but the reason I follow your site is that every week I learn something from your writing. It's always worth the time. Your gift is clarity of expression. My rule of thumb is that if something sounds like gobbledegook, it probably is.

Ekkar said...

I'm glad you hinted at individual psyche as analogous to the collective. Archetypes seem to be the going trend. Are you familiar with Rupert Sheldrake, and his morphic field theory? This theory becomes very interesting when put to human collective and individual thought patterns. Thank you for your work. It is part of my regular Thursday morning mind fodder.

Andy Brown said...

I like your response about meditation - that it's too demanding to be a workaday solution for the cultural and mytho-historical cul de sac we are in. There are two other things that can have the power to hit the re-set button on people's fundamental conceptions: trauma and religious practice. I have a feeling that both of those could end up fairly widespread, depending on how things go. (I'll leave aside the conundrum about how much an experience of "trauma" is the cause or the effect of seeing life's certitudes circle the drain.)

onething said...

K Dog, that was truly excellent.

You too, Raven.

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG: I agree with Jose -- would love to hear more about your own narrative shifts, especially as those have been affected by your initiatory path.

Daniel A. C. said...

I completed an entire undergraduate history degree without ever realizing that I was looking at the past through the perspective exemplified in a work like Sagan's Cosmos, this religion of progress.

I could never conceptualize societies in the past except as progressing towards "us". I think I also mixed up the narrative of progress with a myth of the Golden Age, as it always seemed like peoples of the past were somehow better and spiritually more pure than we are now, yet at the same time that they were also somehow primitive and lacking in understanding, that to be able to see life and this world clearly required living in modern times. I might have assumed that their spiritual pureness derived from their naivete, like they were the children to our adult modern world.

The first inkling I had maybe people of the past were just as intelligent and aware as us, but focused in different directions, was in a book on the Tarot, Jason Lotterhand's The Thursday Night Tarot:

"The Greeks had a tremendous interest in the humanities and psychology, and in the improvement and enhancement of life. Their major concern was in working out a system of values applicable to life almost anywhere. We tend to think of the ancients as being a bit on the primitive side, but this is not so They were just as smart as we are but they were not interested in the same things."

Your writings, JMG, have fleshed out my understanding of the past quite a bit, particularly, for example, in your book on the idea of apocalypse, discussing the ancients understanding of astronomy, and it's relation to myth, it blows my mind to think how deep and different ancient thought may have been to type of thinking I am used to.

I nonetheless still seem to slide back into the progress narrative when I study history, perhaps it will fade as I use a more cyclical paradigm to view the past.

Marcello said...

"It almost sounds as if you are hinting that your next few post the Death of Man, may bring us out of the fire and into the frying pan similar to 1914"

Robert, large scale industrialized warfare as practiced during both world wars is practically impossible today. For a start anyone who can afford to wage war along those lines has nukes (or the ability to cobble them together fairly quickly) which make people in charge wary of going at war with others people so equipped. Then armies have spent the last 60 years walking away from that model of warfare with the result that any mobilization would have to start from scratch and be years away from being able to replace the losses and sustain the consumption rates of a prolonged high intensity conflict. Should a big powers war happen and somehow remain conventional I would expect it to be short and end up at the peace table with the loser being allowed to keep some face. I suppose one could raise masses of infantry equipped with simple stuff that could be produced in a short amount of time but that would be very outside the box.

Ozark Chinquapin said...

I just recently read the book "Anastasia" by Vladimir Megre. I had heard about it several times as a book that has spawned a spiritual "back to the land" movement in Russia, although I don't really know how much of one it is since everything I've heard about its influence in Russia seems to come from sources connected with it.

It's the first book in a series. I haven't read any of the others, but the first one was plenty for me to see where it's coming from. It is a story (Megre presents it as non-fiction but it sounds like even he was forced to admit it is fiction in court) that revolves around the character Anastasia, a representation of Megre's view of an ideal human being.

The book is especially ironic to me considering the last couple of Archdruid Report posts, and the fact that the translator uses the word "Man" as a translation of a Russian word meaning human being. I realized it was basically a new age version of the Man the Conqueror image, even though it's presented as "working with nature". Man the Conqueror appears in varying degrees in most of the new age, but Anastasia's attitude is basically as extreme as H.G. Wells, just with certain aspects completely flipped on their heads, with a Disneyesque version of nature and "pure thoughts" taking the place of technology and science.

The Anastasia character lives in the woods with basically no possessions, but is free from physical labor (other than walking) by having the wild animals do everything for her. The squirrels bring her food, bears, wolves and eagles do other chores for her. She states directly many times that nature has been created for man, and if Man's thoughts are pure enough then man will return to his "pristine origins".

Anastasia doesn't seem to offer anything in return to these animals who are doing all her work for her so she can keep busy helping Man through her thoughts, other than her company. Taking from a person and not giving back doesn't win many friends, yet this one-sided relationship with animals is described by Anastasia as "working with nature". Well, plenty of indigenous myths have stories about animals that include fantastic elements, but all of them that I've read portray the animals as having their own motives and desires, and would never just keep on providing for someone who doesn't provide anything for them. All I can see in "Anastasia" is a disconnect from actual nature while portraying a warped notion of nature that willingly submits to Man if only Man is pure enough.

The only positives positive I can say about "Anastasia" are that I didn't see any apocalypticism she does advocate people making changes in their own life, and encourages regular people to grow a garden even though she doesn't need to. Perhaps some people who are initially inspired by Anastasia to consider a less materialistic life will later find a connection to nature as it is, but I imagine the majority of those who focus on the impossible ideal of Anastasia will be just as ill-prepared to deal with the future as those of H.G. Wells's mindset.

John Michael Greer said...

Onething, I'm not familiar with the story, but if so, he was a smart guy.

Seaweed, I didn't find that so much evocative as, well, simply garbled.

Martin, I figured I'd leave that to the mainstream media.

Neo, I've never found that explanation probable -- everybody in that part of the world had heard laments for Tammuz (or his local equivalent) every year of their lives, and the chance of mistaking the familiar ritual cry for something else seems pretty small. Thanks for the John Crowley reference, though!

Primitive, my take is that you're quite correct -- today's Americans have extraordinarily brittle egos, more so than in most other places and times. It's an interesting question why that should be.

Travis, you could as well, and with equal justice, claim that the universe is symbiotic in nature. Myself, I tend to think that any statement along the lines of "the universe is X" is a communication about the person speaking, not about the universe.

Roger, I've long been of the opinion that Heidegger used murky prose to conceal the fact that he didn't actually have anything of interest to say -- a habit that he picked up from Hegel. Schopenhauer used to insist that Hegel was a deliberate charlatan, a con artist pretending to be a great philosopher by stringing together words and concepts more or less at random, and I tend to think the old grouch of Frankfurt was quite correct there. A competent philosopher should be able to say what he means clearly, in readable prose; I adduce Plato, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Whitehead as examples.

Still, that's a side issue. The point I'm trying to make with K-Dog is that he's trying to privilege one set of beliefs and ideas as "self-evident facts," an that's not a useful move -- it simply makes it harder to understand, and communicate with, all the other people to whom those beliefs and ideas are anything but self-evident.

Ekkar, yes, and in fact we had a lively discussion of Sheldrake in the comments on an earlier post.

Andy, oh, granted! Everyone can experience trauma; most people can engage in basic religious practice; for those who can and will meditate, it makes it easier to deal with either of the other options and come through with your brain in one piece.

Joseph, so noted.

Daniel, the fact that you can see out past the blinkers of the myth of progress at all is impressive -- most people haven't gotten that far, and in all likelihood many never will. It's not a light thing to challenge the primary myth of an entire civilization.

Marcello, these are among the reasons why I expect the next major war to be radically asymmetrical, along the lines of the US-Chinese proxy war I described in my scenario of US collapse last fall.

simon.dc3 said...

hi JMG.
I feel luck I spent a couple of days reading Humanity's Test posts of Nov 7th & 15th, "Economic Growth: A Social Pathology" & "Social Inertia In the Face of Climate Change" (see at right before reading your "Great Man is Dead" post this week.

I would say the author, Roger Boyd, in very much in your same stream of consciousness.
For instance, those posts brought to mind much of your material on social conditioning, thaumaturgy you covered back in 2011 and the inertia gripping society you currently write about.

And he hits on Francis Bacon internalizing Locke's view of Man as center of creation, and Descartes' view of animals as inferior to Man with nature being a waste if not put to work as Man sees fit. Polar opposites how hunter/gatherers viewed animals and Nature.
How this view has been perpetuated ever since by the ruling elite, who stand to benefit most, through control of media and social messages.
Much as you detailed in your back then.

So, seems even more polymaths are tuning in and spreading the message that "Man is dying, we need alternatives now", in their own particular ways. Congrats, you'll be counted as one of the first, if these stand the tests to come :-)

Travis said...

John I see what you mean, and how since obviously we don't know each other, it is safe to assume that I was coming from my own personal experience of the universe being x. To somehow justify what I do in it.Personally I am unaware of how to perceive without starting from the self. However my reflection comes more (I think) from my personal, impersonal experience as a biologist, and as a human, how the "universe" does not play favors. And I would say the universe is symbiotic (assuming there is something outside "it" to compare "it" to.)I have long stopped seeing things in terms of good or bad on the whole. More as an infinite procession of some kind, without any true edges to anything. When I die the microbes who devour this corpse shall rejoice! That should be enough to make any well rounded individual happy.

Travis said...

Please feel no need to field a response to my previous reply. Unless you would care to. Cheers!

Ekkar said...

Awesome. Great minds think alike! Do you recall which post that discussion took place in? Thanks again.

Phil Harris said...

I note that the man himself wrote a follow on book to the Origin; i.e. "The Descent of Man". (This 1870 book had been preceded by zoologist Thomas Huxley, 1863, Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature".

The man bit? Oh well it could have begun to mean ‘one species’ with an understanding that there were no primitive inferior forms, even if inevitably it was not taken that way. Descent still sounds ok to me: and I am pleased to have inherited some of the culture traits of these old naturalists. I still like to think an upside of global natural history is a bit like seeing the earth (ocean) properly from space. We might just get the picture.

Europe’s expansion into the Americas was a pretty desperate business, both sides of the Atlantic. The big starting point did not have a great deal to do with fossil fuels. Britain’s ‘carrying capacity’ had maxed by about 1700 to roughly what it had been in Roman times using roughly the same agricultural methods. Increases in total production matched population growth over roughly 200 years. England’s population went from 2.4M in 1520 to about 5.7M by 1750 with food in surplus from 1660 until about 1780. Food output however by 1780 had broken through the ancient ‘ceiling’ using novel ‘organic’ methods, so a population of over 7M was ‘feeding itself’ in 1781. By 1831, however, and in just another 50 years, and despite a 5-fold increase in food production since 1520, England’s population of over 13M could no longer feed itself.

Finally, to cut an interesting histoy short, over in the USA, by 1920 organic food production and ‘mining’ of ancient soils such as the Great Plains could no longer hack it (on the Plains, peak-horses was 1920), and soil nutrients and yields were drifting down. The only reason the vast increase in urban civilisation (industrialised by then) could survive, was that in the words of Geoff Cunfer: "Rather than adopt one or more of the ancient strategies, farmers (and the industrial nation behind them) created a new option. They appropriated abundant cheap fossil-fuel energy to import enormous amounts of synthetically manufactured nitrogen onto their fields. …” page 219, ‘On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment’, Cunfer 2005;

You have got it about right JMG.

Phil H

Robert Martini said...

John Michael Greer,

I am aspiring to make a satirical Video blog ridiculing the ridiculous of the cult of progress. I was kind of surprised that you went on a satirical streak with the Death of Man a few weeks after i mentioned it. It was really well done, and I think you should do more, judging by the popularity of the next 10 million years and the Death of man compared to other post. Although popularity doesn't necessarily mean better as with such media you often lose fine distinctions based on acute reasoning. Anyway, I was wondering as someone familiar with fairly old text, if you knew what might be best to where I could find some good information on rhetoric? Also, I remember you talking about magic and Theosophy? The ability to cause a conscious expansion of knowledge versus the other type of magic (type?)that advertisers use to dumb people down to binary thinking and fight or flight decisions? I am really interested in those as well.

Richard Larson said...

Protecting a horse from an abuser would be a noble act, perhaps it was the abuser, who has beat the horse to concentrate its labor, that had a radiated brain.

When the horse has gone mad as Nietzsche, from the beatings, the call goes out, "We need another horse over here"! The replacement was furnished...

This weblog was a hard read for me, took some time with it, and still don't think I understand entirely. In a sense most of us living today, in this oil-rich environment, at this moment in time, on the precipe of physical change, are about to learn some hard lessons. Becuase there is no spare horse.

Perhaps the old Gods are still alive. If only to beat the believers in the false idol Progress!

I know most people should they be able to comprehend the moment, comparing the past to the present, would consider this moment as lucky for the luxury of it all.

Hold THAT thought of you can.

nwlorax said...

Excellent analysis, as usual. I would make some points that seem obvious but are overlooked in 90% of the Tales of the Triumphant Willful Ape in its Ascent to a transformative Technophilic Biophobic post-biological computer simulation.

In a recent and cogent (from the stand point of 20th century philosophies of progress) overview of the Fermi Paradox (Where Are All The Aliens if we aren't special?) by the British philosopher Stephen Webb. He pulls a trick worthy of Doug Henning and makes the militaries and their associated aerospace companies disappear from history.

He manages to describe the Space Program without so much as a backwards or forwards glance at the trillions of dollars poured into making war more lethal, more efficient and more dangerous to the entire planet that produced the ideology, industries and technologies for Nazi (and later Soviet, Chinese and American Efforts) The Nazi background of Von Braun is entirely ignored by Webb and whitewashed to a great degree by Sagan. The V-2 program was carried out by slave labor. "Von Braun could see the workers sicken and die as they were forced to work far past exhaustion with dangerous chemicals.

Operation Paperclip" a WWII program of the Western allies to recruit Nazis gave all of the rocket engineers a free pass far away from Nuremberg, without ever holding a single discussion over the very human costs of building and using these revolutionary weapons.

The SETI hopes for another civilization using microwaves to detect our planet rest entirely on the existence of military "chirp" radars, which are the only devices capable of delivering substantial pulses into deep space.

Remove the militaristic background and backing, and space research would be limited to using blimps, high altitude balloons and very small rockets. Commercial jet travel might not exist, certainly not in its current form.

Webb goes on to speculate that a paradigm of wholism is probably incapable of producing a society that is literate in science, citing China as the best case study. This is a fascinating claim--Webb manages to re-define science and its various disciplines and processes (distillation, observation, reasoning, the experimental method, record keeping, etc.) as something that only COULD happen in England or Europe.

He seems genuinely unaware that many heavy industries in China (like high quality steel production) shut down because the British and Dutch were busy draining the Chinese economy of working capital while simultaneously addicting the population to opium.

The 19th century ascendency of the British Empire happened in large part due to this trade, while simultaneously importing Chinese metallurgists to design better blast furnaces for making high grade steel.With so much money and resources being drained from China, factories shuttered their doors. Wars and revolutionary movements did the rest, resulting in the splendid mess that was early 20th century China.

onething said...

Someone mentioned the question of whether democracy is dependent upon cheap oil. I don't think so. I've got a theory about this. I believe mankind is by nature democratic, and the reason for this is various things I've read about tribal societies and how they work. We have often assumed that their chiefs are despotic as our kings and emperors have been, but that is not so. He often arbitrates disputes, and his word carries a lot of weight, but he does not order the people about and has to convince them. I recall a quote of a Native American Indian chief, when his people had been badly abused by the whites, saying that he had spent the entire night talking his men out of retaliation (as they would have been slaughtered; it was not the right time for revenge).
I had read a Jane Goodall book on the behavior of apes, and how the alpha male might get into a rage or have a fight and vanquish another male, after which the beta male would often offer his rear end as a sign of submission, and would even grab and kiss the alpha male's hands. I couldn't help but notice that in many civilized societies, such actions are regularly done before kings and popes. It is highly undignified, and I cannot imagine Native Americans or African tribals doing this.
At the same time, I recall reading in books about childrearing, that a toddler undergoing some minor trauma such as a new sibling or a move to another house, or just being sick, would regress to more babyish behaviors.
Daniel Quinn may have been right that most people had a traumatic joining with civilization and lost their tribal roots along with it. It seems to me that "civilization and its discontents" has some kind of psychic trauma underneath of it, and that our behaviors regarding authority have regressed to earlier, chimp-like strategies.

I don't think we have to go back to being hunter-gatherers, but it does seem that there is something wrong, some sort of barrier, some kind of disconnect at the root of our confusion, poor decisions and lousy ability to govern ourselves.

I don't know that it was necessary for us to become traumatized on our way to civilization, but it seems to be what happened.

PRiZM said...

Thanks a lot for these last two posts JMG.. I can really appreciate how the myth of progress has transcended the myth of god, and also how it's encompassed the entire world. Religious leanings nor political ideologies have escaped the myth of man. Modern Christianity and it's various flavors, and modern government in it's current flavors of capitalism, communism, and socialism all support the myth of progress. It's evident in how so many of the various cultures have died off and been consumed by the consumerist culture, a part of the myth of progress. Yes, Man has died .. and all are enjoying a great feast on his body but soon we'll have nothing left but to scavenge on the bare remains.

latheChuck said...

Blue Sun & JMG: In dynamical systems, there are sometimes time-lag factors, and other times phase-shifts. When a system is driven by a sinusoid, the two are indistinguishable. Even if you never expect to solve a differential equation (much less an integral equation), having the roughest concepts of calculus can be useful in making sense of the world. In the case of "why do the cold months follow, rather than surround, the shortest days of the year?", consider that the temperature of an object is determined by the "integral" of heat added to it. The pot on the stove doesn't get instantly hot when the flame is on, nor instantly cool when the flame is off. Heat flow depends on the difference in temperatures across a boundary, and the thermal resistance to flow through the boundary. (Put the pot into a haybox, and it will cool very slowly. Set the haybox on fire, and it will rewarm very quickly (though you really shouldn't do this).)
So, the Earth is warmed by solar radiation, and is cooled by its own radiation into space. If solar radiation increases, the Earth's temperature should rise. If the thermal resistance of the atmosphere increases (between the surface and the frigid cosmos), the Earth's temperature should rise, but also the lag (phase shift) between peak solar radiation and peak temperature will increase.

BeaverPuppet said...

When I found out about peak oil back in 2005, I was so relieved. What?!? Man is dependent on fossil fuels, and these fuels are not only finite, but quickly running up to their limits?!? What a good thing! Not only do we not have to continue on the path we are on, we couldn't do it even if we wanted to. What hope this has given me.

oliverlazenby said...

John Michael Greer you're going to love this:

Cherokee Organics said...


Quote: "some members of our species stumbled onto a new means of subsistence, which we haven’t yet figured out how to use in a sustainable manner, and at this point almost certainly never will. This sort of thing has happened many times before to our species, and to countless other species as well."

You know, I found this series of observations to be comforting. I wonder whether this was your intention? It sort of shows me that we are all in a cycle of life, where sometimes the species is ahead and sometimes it is behind. But, we are highly adaptable (as we have done in the past) and will simply end up with a somewhat different story (not to dismiss any pain and suffering along the way). That is comforting. I've never been a big fan of NTE as it all seems a bit too neat and easy.

Someone wrote about mega-fauna last week and I've noticed that some of the wallabies, wombats and kangaroos that feed here are noticeably larger than their compatriots in the surrounding areas. They used to have giant kangaroos and wombats you know, I can't imagine it is that large an evolutionary leap. Probably less predation and better soils would help.

You dodged my question in the previous comment. I hope you didn't think it was silly as it was a serious question. Oh well, time is short, I guess.

Thanks too for your thoughts. I had this horrible thought whilst reading the comments about what you contemplate, you imitate. Noooo, I wouldn't wish it on anyone. My wife asked the doctor, what would have happened without treatment and they responded that it would not have been good.

I was getting a bit ratty (fracked off? hehe!) today from being house bound so got out this afternoon and worked on building a secondary steel fire shield for my electric water pump. What is really weird is that the work actually cleared my headache which has been plaguing me ever since getting sick. Weird... Anyway, I’m feeling much better now, thanks.

What started me thinking about the pump fire shield was:

Summers first heat to sting the nation

40 Celsius = 104 Fahrenheit.



Cherokee Organics said...


Oil, Man and Progress, well it's bigger than Jesus! hehe!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Travis,

There is such a concept as equilibrium you know? Sorry to point it out to you but chaos and order are just points along a whole continuum.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Roger and K-dog,

Quote:""self evident" is that we have to accept some things just as they appear."

Self evident is simply a point of view. What may be self evident to you, may not be a truth to others.

If I said that it was self evident that consuming a finite resource will eventually deplete it, then you may agree that is a self evident truth. But what about all of those others who say that it is not a truth? Who is correct?

Claiming something is self evident can become a rhetorical tactic.

Just something to think about.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Travis,

Just read your second comment. That reads better, I see where you are coming from.

As an aside, when the rosellas are eating my nashi pears, they're not being evil - as you well know.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil,

Nicely put. We were also effectively a large off shore farm for the UK too.

Some of the early explorers here reported soils as rich as 22% carbon, whereas people are excited by soils with 1% carbon. Those sheep did an awful lot of damage in a very short period of time.



Marcello said...

"Someone mentioned the question of whether democracy is dependent upon cheap oil. I don't think so. I've got a theory about this. I believe mankind is by nature democratic, and the reason for this is various things I've read about tribal societies and how they work."

Onething, it is indeed true that tribal societies may not be despotic and forms of democratic self-rule may arise in certain conditions. However more complex societies are normally despotic and the exceptions of modern democracies are pretty sensitive to even modest economic hiccups.
Their survival in what lays ahead is rather unlikely.

Robert Beckett said...

"...among the basic requirements of the time before us are giving the conception of Man the conqueror of Nature a decent burial, and finding a way to imagine ourselves that has some relation to the realities of the human condition in a world on the far side of a failed industrial project."
You have left the answer in plain sight, JMG. We are human beings, thus, from the same Latin root word comes humane; humanity (human nature, also humane conduct); humanities (the branch (or rather the trunk) of learning including the arts, classics, philosophy and history, but not (!) the sciences); and humanitarianism.
The prideful, spoiled, fortunate youngster, science, having unlocked massive wealth (from the earth), disavows his older siblings as dim-witted and primitive, yet will soon be humbled (from the Latin root word humus, the ground, the earth) and it is predicted that such humiliation, such a fall, will teach humility (same root), and spur a reconciliation with his brothers and sisters. As well, let us expect that science, in acceptance and recognition of his earth-bound status, will join his talents to those of his family, in study of his home (ecology, economy, from the Greek, oikos) and humanity.

Nano said...

An interesting new look at Easter Island and its collapse.

Worth noting is also the writers reaction to the news.

ww said...

To what extent can deep changes in the inner life of peoples and civilizations be managed? It seems to be a thing that happens, but looking at Bacon and Nietzsche, correlation and causality are in a relationship that's difficult to fathom. To torture a simile, it's like steering a toboggan by writing a book with a minor subplot featuring the concept of shifting your weight, and trying to sell it to the other riders.

Iuval Clejan said...

Dear JMG,

I wonder what you think of this guy, your archProgress doppleganger. Are you twins?:

jld said...

"Other species in similar situations undergo the same kinds of crisis, and then find their way back to balance—and so do we"

Huh? That's absolutely "untrue", the vast majority of species once in existence are now extinct and so will we.
However I am always puzzled by these "grand concerns" (pro or con) about the continuity of the human specie while nobody seem to worry about the wretched decay of EVERY individual.
Idiotic delusional monkeys caring about "history" the same way they care about celebrities in the magazines.

Atilio Baroni Filho said...


Being on the cusp of becoming a father, I can already feel the intuition that the example we set with our own lives will deeply influence the next generations. I already know that the path my parents put me through is no longer a viable option, but now that I have to think of other paths to present to my child I can truly understand the immensity of the task you propose here with your writings. It's trivial to put a child in the "path to college" that (still) is standard when you compare it with trying to guide a new life through an unknown trail, to inspire a nascent self to find his own way contrary to much of the people around him. The stories we will tell our children are more important than ever now.

Phil Harris said...

@ Cherokee
Hi Chris
Thanks for the remark.
Crikey; I have only just read about your mysterious illness.
I am very glad the emergency treatment worked, and the headache after effect is improved!

I think re-hydration kits can come in low-tech long-life forms. Such kits and analgesics along with means for stemming blood loss after an accident appear 'good ideas' when living in out of the way places - just in case.

Intersting about carbon depletion Australian soils. If you have a link to some studies on the subject it would be interesting.

Phil H

Liquid Paradigm said...


"If I said that it was self evident that consuming a finite resource will eventually deplete it, then you may agree that is a self evident truth. But what about all of those others who say that it is not a truth? Who is correct?"

Well, evident or not, we're getting ready to find out. ;)

[captcha: oialtxt; oh boy...]

Enrique said...

John Michael,

I listened to the whole playlist for "An Elegy to the Age of Space" on YouTube. Very cool tribute to your work. I remember there was a heavy metal band called Awake which produced an album inspired by your book "The Long Descent".

It would be great to see more such works of art, especially since art, fiction and music can often reach people where rational argumentation and logic falls short.

John Michael Greer said...

Simon, glad to see that spreading. It's going to take a lot to break through the mental inertia that holds so many people stuck in unproductive mental ruts.

Travis, okay, that makes sense. As for the microbes, of course -- when the fungi and bacteria dine on my ashes, I hope they enjoy the meal!

Ekkar, not at the moment -- it was several weeks ago, but I'm not sure how many and don't have the spare time just at the moment to go paging back through the comments sections.

Phil, everybody talked about "Man" in those days. It was a golden age of capitalized abstractions.

Robert, the funny thing is that I'd already finished the first draft of Man's obituary when you posted that comment -- thus my response. Great minds definitely think alike!

Richard, it's a worthwhile thought to hold. People will be telling legends about this age for a very long time to come.

Lorax, bingo -- leaving out inconvenient details like that is one of the classic ways in which history is reduced to hero myth.

Onething, I'm going to repeat to you, with a slight variation, what I said to Travis: when somebody says "humanity is naturally X," that's normally a statement about the values of the person who's speaking, not a statement about humanity. I'd point out in particular that some hunter-gatherer cultures keep slaves -- that was very common along the west coast of North America, for example -- fight wars, and engage in other not particular egalitarian activities. Our culture is so fixated on the myth of a primitive golden age -- that's the flip side of the myth of a utopian future -- that any number of such inconvenient details get filed off in the process of forcing history to fit the myth.

Prizm, you're welcome. That final metaphor is nice and ghoulish!

LatheChuck, most interesting. Yes, that would make sense.

Puppet, I hear that from a lot of people. I don't think the prophets of progress have any idea just how many people are left utterly cold by their idea of the future...

Oliver, thank you -- you're #3 to post that here, which gives me some sense of how rapidly it's spreading through the crawlspace of the peak oil scene.

Nano said...

We'll be the Atlantis of future times.

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, if you want to know whether gods can change, you need to ask them -- being an archdruid doesn't give me a privileged channel of communication with them, you know! As for the comforting nature of these reflections, I'm exploring the same odd divide I tried to point out with The Next Ten Billion Years, between those who find these reflections comforting and those who find them intolerable.

Robert, well, that's my answer, or part of it. Still, I don't claim that it's the only answer, or even the one that will inevitably come out on top.

Nano, good -- you're #4. I'll definitely have to reference this in an upcoming post, and discuss in particular why people find this scenario "even scarier" than the one that involves mass dieoff and cannibalism!

WW, granted! But if the only way you might be able to influence the course of the toboggan is to write that book, why not write it?

Iuval, fascinating. No, as far as I know, we're not related, and his ideas don't really interest me -- the sort of thinking that comes out of what I called in an earlier post "the stark shivering terror of the normal, healthy human process of ripening toward death" always bores me.

Jld, you are going to die. So am I, and so is every other living thing. So? That doesn't make it any less interesting to consider the world in which we live and try to make sense of it.

Atilio, true enough. (Re your offlist comment, many thanks!)

John Michael Greer said...

K-dog (offlist), if you want to get your response through, please leave out the profanity.

Really, folks, it's not that hard. You know which words will get you bleeped. Don't use them here or your comments will not be put through.

John Michael Greer said...

Enrique, I'm delighted that my ideas have been a source of inspiration to creative minds -- yes, I also thought of the "Awake" album "Industrial Cemeteries," which was composed in response to The Long Descent, and there was also a modern dance piece titled "Rise and Fall," which was a response to some of the ideas in The Ecotechnic Future. I don't expect Star's Reach to be turned into an opera, but there's always the hope!

Nano, have you by any chance read my book on exactly that subject?

k-dog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Vail said...

Engaging post as always.
Could you please comment on the relationship between the collective self-image you're discussing here and the concept of egregor.
I would also be interested to hear about your take on the relationship between Man, the Conqueror of Nature, and it's relationship with the collective self-images / egregors of the indigenous peoples that were colonized by It.
Many thanks.

beneaththesurface said...


Thanks for the mention of the book, Narratives of Human Evolution, by Misia Landau. I had not heard of it, and now I have added it to my (long) list of books to read. I often contemplate the stories people tell about human history, and how even when people insist they are being factual, they are in fact unconsciously reflecting a myth. More specifically, I think of how the term "The Great Turning," used by those like Joanna Macy, David Korten, etc. rubs me the wrong way, because it treats a myth (that humanity is inevitably ascending to a golden age or a more "mature" state of humanity, regardless of human agency in making that happen) as statement of fact, when I see no evidence that a mass awakening is emerging.

I'm curious if anyone here has read Charles Eisenstein's work and their opinions of it. I have not yet, but I hear his name mentioned a lot (including suggestions from some that he speak at the Age of Limits gathering). I just started to read his book Sacred Economics, so I can form more of an opinion than I currently have when people ask me about his ideas.

I'm aware he's written another book called "The Ascent of Humanity." My immediate reaction to the title makes me suspect this is another classic hero tale (of a post-industrialism sort), though I could be mistaken.


I agree how studying anthropology can be enlightening. I majored in anthropology as an undergrad, and despite the many limitations and flaws in the field, it helped me look at every "normal" aspect of my life and the world around me as if it was part of a foreign culture. I remember when I took my first Cultural Anthropology class, I felt awakened and lifted beyond my previous unconscious confines of looking at the world. Also, when I learned about peak oil in 2006, there was no denial on my part; it immediately made perfect sense, and fit in with my worldview shaped in part by my anthropology education.

onething said...


I was not trying to idealize aboriginal cultures. I realize they had war. Was not aware of the slaves. But when I see that many of the physical postures assumed in civilized cultures are exactly correspondent to chimps, it does alarm me. I consider it a step backward, and I ask why.

I don't know that there is an inherent reason that more complex cultures cannot be democratic, except that it appears to become much more difficult with larger populations.

As to why the new Easter Island scenario is more dismal, that is because if you have mass die off and cannibalism, at least you eventually have a beautiful world again, whereas in the Easter Island scenario, we just continue to denude the earth of living things until nature is no longer rich and wild and beautiful, and we become like slum dwellers, adapting and never reversing course.

Steve said...


I just wanted to say thank you. Your post hit me in a very personal space as I'm in the middle of my own self-image transition and forgot my ideas were merely ideas. And not really mine.

Thanks again for the kick in the pants.


steve pearson said...

@cherokee Hey Chris, Sorry about your illness. Glad you are better. Take care. Don't know what I would do without your observations.
By the way, do you know Darren Dougherty and/or David Holmgren? Both in your part of the world & both good value.
Cheers, Steve

k-dog said...

This comment is reposted as I saw a couple of typos I could not live with. I also added one sentence and will delete the original as soon as I see this corrected version. Colourful metaphor remains eliminated and sensitivity understood for future reference.

Clarifying 'Self-evident truth'.

If we are not solipsists there is the world outside of us, knowledge of which comes to us through our senses. Nietzsche pointed this out. He said the only way we can know anything is through our senses. Our senses can deceive and give us false information but regardless; if the world exists outside of ourselves there is truth in it. That truth is the correct perception of reality as it is.

Roger said: Maybe what k-dog is trying to say in using the term "self evident" is that we have to accept some things just as they appear. Roger is perceptive, thank you Roger. This is part of what I mean but there is more too it.

We have to start somewhere and do some acceptance of that which is self evident. In a sense that is what a religion is. There must be some element of faith or we are lost in nihilism. What is religion but a framework with which to function in the world? But with that acceptance we must never stop questioning and accepting that we may be wrong and deceived by our senses. I hold that position. Faith to me must be conditional and never blind.

I totally agree that "Self-evident Truth" is a common label for "a belief whose foundations I'm not willing to explore." I'm kind of fond of "the all men are created equal" one myself. There is that danger of ceasing to explore but that is not what I'm trying to get at. Complex belief is often colored by our own desires and predilection, our own internal bias. Internally our minds add emotional feedback to sense data and we can wind up with beliefs that move far from a true representation of reality in the process. Which if we are not solipsists is out there somewhere. Internally we pollute our beliefs with our own minds. Belief must surly lie on a continuum between that which is rationally sound in harmony with reality as it truly is and that which is just plain crazy. By self evident truth I'm talking about truth that is close to pure perception unpolluted by the madness of men, representation of reality as it is.

Is there truly a thing as Self-evident Truth? Maybe not and if so the human condition which is impossible to escape means that to truly be what we are; we must never cease from questioning and accept that we must always at some level doubt.

We may not know what a new Religiosity will be. But it is my desire that it is one which has a representation of reality close to that what reality truly is and which allows men, women and dogs a satisfying dignified life.

And onething thank you very much. You too Justin. There is no escape from the human condition and a dog like me is subject to man's whim.

k-dog said...

Andy Brown said: They say that any intellectual paradigm shift only happens when its generation of defenders finally die off.

I think a possibility is that people over-identify with their beliefs and allow their beliefs to define who they are. A belief taken into the soul becomes cherished and one thinks that by giving a belief up they loose some of themselves. If we remember we have intrinsic worth and dignity beyond what we believe then discarding beliefs which have been found to be erroneous is much easier. But for some to discover that they have intrinsic worth beyond carrying a particular dogma is a foreign concept because society brainwashes people into thinking they have no worth unless they hold particular beliefs.

In this weeks post JMG said:

"Our need for a sense of stable identity is so powerful that many of us would rather be wretchedly miserable than risk the leap into the unknown that surrendering a self-image always involves"

This is true but it does not have to be so. Only people who do not understand that they have intrinsic worth suffer from this trap. Unfortunately that is most of us.

The Primitive said:

From my view in the cheap seats, it always seems to me that people miss that to hear the other side, you would have to be willing to confront that some fundamental belief about yourself might be wrong. Our beliefs define our very selves, and unless one is willing to openly accept that some part of self is based on something flawed or wrong, your well worded post simply ain't going to change diddly squat.

I don't think that's a view from the cheap seats at all. Change beliefs and the organism itself remains the same. The organism has the same intrinsic worth though beliefs have changed so seeing that beliefs should not define the value of self is enlightenment.

And: The Primitive also said:

My perception is that we, at least here in the US (since that is where my experience is), are as poorly equipped as humans to deal with this as we have ever been.

I concur and think American society is set up that way so the American way of life becomes sacrosanct and protected. Deviating from cherished American values is considered heresy. That is the system.

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, you never know... Who knows where insights come from anyway? I look to you for advice on such matters.

It is a big call but, I was actually looking for a historical perspective on the matter. I've always felt that it will be the facts on the ground that will be the undoing of Man conqueror of Nature. It has such a strong narrative that it may be unable to adapt and verifiable evidence is a big call for any deity. As Nick Cave rightly pointed out, Gods don't have to be interventionist.

I had a flash of insight today (read, free time due to recovery) and decided to concentrate on plant species that do well in this environment. I'm maintaining the diversity, but it takes so many years for fruit trees to be productive in Australia's sad soils that immediate steps have to be taken. My best summer fruit producers are the strawberries and rhubarb (not to be sneezed at). So, I've decided today to double the productive area of strawberries and over the next year multiply the rhubarb many fold. The bees will be increased from two to three hives. Comfrey and borage will also be massively extended too as some areas are displaying a calcium deficiency (the forest soils are quite acidic).

It takes so long to understand how best to work with the environment that I have randomly ended up in. I really try hard not to set myself at odds with nature, but work with her and see what she sweetens.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil,

Thanks for your thoughts. I bake my own bread because it is about a 20km return journey to the nearest bakery (plus no preservatives too - how does industrial bread last a week? Yuk). Yeah, there is a well-stocked medicine cabinet too for the same reason, but of recent years, I've been looking into medicinal herbs.

Without going into details, I could not keep down Stemetil (Prochlorperazine) either...

As to the study, well it was just an analysis done by one of the early explorer / surveyors of the country. Today, I looked through my reference books but couldn't find the original source. Sorry. I did come up with a quote from Peter Andrews book "Back from the brink - how Australia's landscape can be saved": page 116: "Australia's landscapes contain only one-tenth of the amount of carbon they had 200 years ago. Whereas our soils once contained carbons that were 4,000 years to 10,000 years old, now they're two years old".

I hope you are OK with that, but it matches the observations on the ground here. Most of the top soil was lost here during the initial clear felling of the forest from about 1860 onwards. The explorer in question was Major Mitchell. Not only did he have impressive facial hair, but he was also reasonably switched on and passionate (the last person in the country to call for and participate in a duel!). As an interesting side note, he named the Mountain range here too.

Peter Andrews on the other hand sort of lost his farm, family and possibly also a bit of mental health in the process of discovering wisdom. What he discovered was the tools of permaculture, which were actually also some the tools of the Aboriginals simply as a response to this difficult landscape. But they're very good if you are setting out to design a small holding anywhere. He has since been provided a very wealthy patron and has continued his experiments which are very valuable.

I have a sort of, love / hate relationship with Grand Designs UK (after having actually built the house here) and am always fascinated by the excavations shown there. Unfortunately, I empathise with the owners pain too much. On the other hand a lot of builds are ego driven and this is a very small house. Your soils are in peril from what I've seen too. However, you have a much milder climate so rebuilding them is not as tough a task as here.

Hi Steve,

Thanks man. Yeah, I've once met Darren at a local farm in Woodend (Taranaki Farm) who in turn is a big fan of Joel Salatin. He brought Joel out here for a talk and open farm day last year. Those guys almost single handedly got me raising pigs (probably not a good idea though in this hilly environment here though).

My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that Darren is moving to the US and selling the family farm in Bendigo. Bendigo is about 70km north of here and it is a boom and bust environment. Last summer was hard everywhere in this part of the world.

David Holmgren is on a farm in Daylesford which is about 40km from here. I have a great deal of respect for the work that he has done and the insights achieved. You can tour his farm some weekends and I was most impressed with it. He seems like a gentle spirit. Nice bloke.

Man, you’re making me sound like I’m name dropping (you asked!), but it is such a small world, and I can well understand why agricultural design systems such as permaculture originated Down Under. It is just really extreme and the soils are just so poor.

Thanks again, your thoughts are appreciated.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Liquid,

Too right! It is a little bit scary though?



jld said...

"Jld, you are going to die"

No, no, no, that's not what I am talking about.
Death isn't a "problem", it's been estimated that even if the Singularitarians dreams come true an human life couldn't last on average more than 5000 years due to chance accidents.
What IS a problem is the debilitating decay that comes BEFORE death, up to the point that some long for euthanasia.

John Michael Greer said...

Nick, that's a large enough topic for a book, and not a small one, either. I'll consider discussing it in a future post or two.

Beneath, I really should read Sacred Economics; I got a review copy from the publisher, but the title is so off-putting -- the term "sacred" in contemporary pop culture is generally a label for "and now I'm going to plunge into wishful thinking" -- that I haven't yet been able to work up the enthusiasm.

Onething, but they didn't get a beautiful Easter Island again, just a barren speck of rock with a few scattered, warring tribes on it shouting "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth!" at each other. I really am going to have to do a post about that study, aren't I?

Steve, you're welcome. Just one of the services I offer!

K-dog, okay, I'm going to try to rephrase what I think you're saying, and you can tell me (or bark enthusiastically!) if I've got it right. Your claims "human beings are animals" and "every human being has inherent value" are the beliefs you'd like to see a future society adopt as unquestioned truths, because in your view those statements are (a) not contradicted by observed fact and (b) beneficial in their consequences, if firmly believed by most people. Is that more or less it?

Cherokee, heck of a good question. I'm not sure how much the collapse of a collective image is a matter of the failure of the image to conform to facts, or simly the collapse of the social forms that rely on, and support, the image. Thus Man the Conqueror of Nature could expire because enough people notice that the great war against nature has ended in total defeat, or he might expire because the social, political, and economic forms that support and are supported by that mythic figure become so obviously unworkable that other forms, backed up by different images, take their place.

Jld, that doesn't happen to everyone -- not by a long shot -- though the overuse of prescription medications with ghastly side effects in today's America has made it much more common than it would otherwise be. One of the reasons I enjoy involvement in Freemasonry and other fraternal orders is that they tend to be full of spry, active, enthusiastic people in their 70s and 80s who are still mentally as sharp as they ever were. The same thing goes for traditional martial arts -- Chinese t'ai chi teachers in their 80s who are more limber than I've ever been are quite common. You might find it helpful to get involved in some context where there are a lot of lively, smart old people; it may help you get past the conviction, fostered by today's popular culture (and heavily marketed by the medical profession among others), that aging by definition means debility and decay.

steve pearson said...

@cherokee Hey Chris,I spent a couple of weeks with Darren & his family at Quail Springs, a permaculture & natural building farm/teaching center in California: really lovely family. He may be moving to Joel Salatin's, or nearby. Certainly lots more water.
I met David, when I worked at the Eco-Show in Auckland in the early 2000s.
I guess if you are name dropping, so am I, but just checking really. They are good & very knowledgeable folks.
Don't know your part of the world well.Have just driven through it. Lived for quite awhile in SE QLD.
Cheers, Steve

Unknown said...

Justin W. and JMG: yes, meditation has been found to have certain salubrious effects, and I totally agree that it's hard work for many and well-nigh impossible for some.

My fiancée and I sat a five-day silent Zen retreat last New Years. I thought it was wonderful. The abbess upbraided me a couple of times for my apparently-cocky attitude; her words, after a frown: "I spare you thirty blows!" She also reminded me, quite pointedly, that I too am going to die. People who I've talked to, including the abbott at that retreat, note that for most everybody (other than me) the reaction to a meditation retreat three or four days in is typically "What am I DOING here?!"

I went to the first Buddhist Geeks conference in SoCal a couple of years ago. I was fairly astonished at the number of participants I talked to that were in the mental health profession. A couple of talks pointed out that one has to be prepared at meditation retreats for at least one participant to have, often after the retreat ends, a mental "break" or crisis. And a recent Buddhist Geeks podcast discusses how "The Dark Night" is often waiting for meditation practitioners who pursue the practice long enough.

One final anecdote: also at the 1st Buddhist Geeks conference, a speaker told about laboratory studies on long-time meditation practitioners (ten years and more.) The staff doing the testing found that some of those practitioners were incredibly sweet and caring, but a substantial number of them were QUITE unlikable and difficult people to get along with. This took the staff and the investigators totally by surprise; it was not something they were even investigating, but they found it impossible not to notice.

JMG, your blog is such a delight AND such a challenge sometimes. Many thanks!

onething said...

"Onething, but they didn't get a beautiful Easter Island again, just a barren speck of rock with a few scattered, warring tribes..."

Yes, that was pretty much the point of the article. Shortly, the new idea is that instead of stupidly using up all their trees for boats, that it was the introduction of rats that caused the problem with the trees, which lead to a descending spiral of bio-impoverishment, with the people ultimately eating mostly rats, the landscape denuded, no way to do much fishing, and the people just continued to adapt to their worsening conditions.
Meanwhile, some people fear that if the collapse is slow enough and lacks major catastrophes, we might just continue to muddle along, with species dying, poisons accumulating, and the landscape deteriorating. That the Easter Island situation may not have been the people's fault and ours would be, is not the point. The point is that we might just have an almost bottomless ability to adapt rather than make changes.

trippticket said...

Continuing on the natural building topic, I posted some photos and chatter about the new rocket mass heater I built in our big wall tent. I'm constantly fascinated by the thing, the tiny quantity of fuel that it requires to produce major amounts of heat, and well, the fact that I built the thing from scratch! And for only a few hundred bucks. Also, to see how well its fuel preferences couple with a coppicing woodlot management approach is very encouraging, since we're headed into our third season of coppice management on our property.

If you wish to comment to me about the stove, please do so at my blog, as I don't get to spend nearly enough time in this comments section these days.


Ramaraj said...

In India, several religious laws and taboos exist about the slaughter or harming of several creatures. A very interesting belief is that toads (a related species of frogs) are the reincarnation of wise men and saints who, after understanding the meaning of life, wished to be reborn as toads.

Two different elements of human narrative seem to appear in this belief.

The first one was obvious to me, that toads were a vital link in the ecological chain, and the taboo was erected to preserve them.

The other interesting dimension occurred to me while reading the current series of posts. If a culture valued an animal life (several, in fact) as superior to theirs, what would be the way they view their place and their relationship with the ecosphere? Would bringing back such narratives be adaptive in the current age and the ones that will follow? I think it certainly would.

MawKernewek said...

@Cherokee - I was doing some voluntary work with an archiving organisation Azook last summer, and heard about Bendigo, and the miners from Cornwall who were there when the gold mines were booming. In Cornwall we experienced the bust end of industrialism before anyone else as the overseas mines opened up.

I had an realisation last night, that the change from working in abstractions to the real world might have been one of the things that affected my psychological equilibrium around the end of 2007.

Looking at a few of my undergrad lecture notes from my maths for physical scientists course, I realised that all through that time the real world was broken down into manageable chunks that could be thought of in terms of the abstractions (that is the mathematically written rules of physics), and thinking about the abstractions and doing mathematically based examples sheets on them was always the primary activity of that degree course.

I had started a PhD in observational astronomy in 2006, and this was now dealing with actual real data, and astronomy being observational not experimental, not just a little bit of reality chopped up in a lab.

Though I don't think I saw the importance of this at the time, it was profoundly different to what I had been doing in undergrad, and may have affected my mental balance at the end of 2007. I'd started to experience this when doing my 4th year project, but the impact didn't really come until I was doing it full-time.

It was also the summer of 2007 when I first started reading this blog, and though I was aware of things like resource issues, at some level before then I'd always taken in enough of the narrative of progress to assume a technological fix was well on the way.

I ended up writing up the PhD as MSc, after a struggle to gain momentum and a further period of psychological ill-heath.

k-dog said...

If I was one of those little toy dogs that can do flips in the air I would but I'm too big for that. I'll bark enthusiastically instead but I don't think the statement (b) goes far enough.

Rapine of the earth's resources without regard for other creatures, humans or dogs and the wild animals of the earth would not be possible if it were a majority belief that "every human being has inherent value". Any society that endures is going to have to live in balance with nature and this can be done in one of two ways.

The first way is a small minority rules with Draconian despotism. Keeping the bounty of the earth to themselves and forcing the ecological footprint of the masses to be small via pain misery and death. The movie Hunger Games portrays such a scenario though it pained me they could not illustrate a higher technology than we currently have without using 'magic' which I'll define as science fiction without regard to the limits imposed by known physical laws.

I'll add that this way will not be brought about with much death and destruction and the chaos cause by trying to bring about this pattern of life may extinct man all by itself.

The second way is to respect the dignity of life especially the dignity of fellow men (and pets).

By recognizing that other humans have inherent worth a society can shun conspicuous consumption and the ethic of living within means so that others are also respected can become commonplace. To many this may seem like a dream but that attitude comes from being immersed in a constant rain of western media brainwashing which encourages one to be free while ignoring the freedom of others. Current American values are opposed to what I advocate and what I advocate seems strange only because the religion of endless growth is foisted on the American and other peoples of the western world every hour of every day.

To say human beings are animals correctly apprises the human biological condition and allows for behaviors to emerge in harmony with the long term survival of the human race. To say that every human being also has inherent value means that one admits they have inherent value too and the need to prove ones worth by consuming and taking from the earth as much as one possibly can becomes correctly understood as madness. If we admit every human being has inherent value then everyone perceives themselves as part of a greater whole and behaviours emerge in harmony with the long term survival of the human race.

So I see it as:

(a) Not contradicted by observed fact.
(b) Beneficial in consequence.


(c) Essential for the long term survival of humanity.

and then:

(d) All dogs eat.

Phil Harris said...

Hi Chris
Thanks for the info on soil carbon and permaculture etc.
Loss of soil carbon has certainly happened in other farming situations and became serious in the example I quoted on the US Great Plains. (It even became serious round here near the Scottish Border for a while, when a lot of light top soil was getting blown off or washed down the rows. Different cultvation methods seems to be making a difference.) Trees, grass and careful or limited cultivation will help rebuild soils I guess.

Look after yourselves
Phil H

Joseph Nemeth said...

@JMG, Onething,

Hmm. Just reading this dialogue seems to point out something that lies even one layer below the Religion of Progress. Not sure what it should be called, but let's call it the Power of RIght Intent narrative.

I've been pondering this very thing in the pseudoconservative babble that seems to dominate political thinking in the West. When faced with suffering, the pseudos justify ignoring it with the attitude that those who suffer somehow deserve their suffering. They like to trot out the Ant and Grasshopper fable, and the "they made this bed…" aphorism. Rape victims were "asking for it" with their behavior and mode of dress. Victims of muggers shouldn't have been walking alone at night. They invariably blame the victim, which betrays an underlying belief that the victim could have done something differently, and should have done so.

The pseudoliberals recognize that this simply isn't true, but they push the same belief up to the collective. That is, the mugger is as much a victim of society as is the victim of the mugger, but the society could be different, and should be changed. Then there would be no more muggers, or their victims.

Both views implicitly believe that something can be done, and something should be done, and that the Power of RIght Intent will manifest the intent.

So when we say that Easter Island society fell because the Easter Islanders chose to wipe out their resource base making stone heads, it's merely another "don't walk alone at night" cautionary tale: don't use up all your essential resources making stone heads, or don't waste your one shot as a species at petroleum-powered industry making automobiles and iPods. If industrial civilization falls because we were collectively idiots, it doesn't challenge the Power of Right Intent narrative. Rather, it confirms it.

What makes the Easter Island rate scenario "more terrifying" is that it undercuts the Power of Right Intent narrative. It implies that, even had the Easter Islanders done everything that could have been done, they were doomed by factors entirely outside their control. Their Intent, right or wrong, was impotent. They were but playthings of the gods.

I think we have to go back quite a ways before Francis Bacon to get away from the Power of Right Intent narrative. Medieval society believed that the prayers of the righteous were efficacious; Parzival gained the Graal through Right Intent. Roman society seemed to think itself pretty tough, declaring its emperors to be gods.

I think we have to go back to the Greek idea of the Fates, and of binding prophecy, to get back to a philosophical belief that Right Intent can be completely powerless….

onething said...

K Dog,

I venture to guess that nearly any American would agree that all human beings have inherent worth. It doesn't seem to stop us from bombing one country after another, so long as we don't see much of it.

As to defining us as animals, at least we are the only animal who can assess the situation and decide to consume less, reproduce less, and make agreements with others of our species that we ought to do so.

KL Cooke said...

"As to why the new Easter Island scenario is more dismal, that is because if you have mass die off and cannibalism, at least you eventually have a beautiful world again, whereas in the Easter Island scenario, we just continue to denude the earth of living things until nature is no longer rich and wild and beautiful, and we become like slum dwellers, adapting and never reversing course."

The cannibal collapse scenario is like a horror movie--it gives people the chills, but nobody really believes it. On the other hand permanently degrading slum scenario is perfectly believable, because we can all see it happening, right now, all around us. The only question is will it stop, and nobody has anything convincing to say it will.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Phil,

Hey, have you got any info on the Scottish soils? Those actions sound like they are on the money. I literally do little to no digging here and it really does build top soils. George Monbiot has been very negative of recent times about the sheep farmers up that way.

Thought you might be interested in this YouTube link about things Down Under. The talk is by a professor at the Australian National University on historical land management by the Aborigines. I'm going to have to track down a copy of the book:

The Biggest Estate on Earth

Gotta run, the chooks are calling!



Cherokee Organics said...


Yeah, it is an interesting question, which will probably be made more clear sooner or later. Still, knowing the answer to that question may also provide the early wedge with which to question and perhaps undermine the foundations of the structure.

The rosellas have been consuming the unripe nashi (Asian) pears. I suspect that the birds are a bit grumpy because they are now effectively excluded from the chook enclosure.

I can't rationalise with them either. If they only took a reasonably portion of the fruit I wouldn't consider a response. Still, the strawberry / rhubarb jam has turned out to be excellent. Hopefully, if the weather conditions continue it will be an outstanding year for blackberries too!

Unfortunately this week:

Week long wave of heat to bake central Australia

It would not surprise me if large parts of central Australia were abandoned in the future as uninhabitable. From 40 degrees Celsius (104F) onwards, plant growth shuts down.



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Steve,

Thanks. They are really passionate people that put their actions and lives where their belief systems are. I wouldn't want to farm at Bendigo, although their growing season is about 2 months longer than here (possibly more). Mind you, they probably wouldn't think of farming here either!

How good is Auckland? SE Queensland has been doing it really tough this year too with the drought.

Hi MawKernewek,

Yeah, Bendigo is a lovely inland city here, built around some of the richest gold mines on the planet. They still mine there too, but it all depends on the gold price. Glad to hear of the links to Cornwall.

How are you going over there? They describe the UK as being in the grip of the Great Recession. Sorry to hear about your health. A PhD is a tough ask.



Nano said...

I so loved E. Casey and his prophesies growing up. Thanks so much for the link. I had no idea this was available.

On a side note, have you ever read Frater U.D's models of Magick?

Perhaps we can see hints in there of where the next "ages" might take us.

steve pearson said...

Hey Chris, I think even 5or6 years ago, There were big water issues around Bendigo.
On your comment about central Australia being abandoned, that has already started. About seven years ago I went out near Roma, Qld. with a group from near the coast to tear down an old shearing shed for timber for tent platforms for the coastal center. One of our members had grown up there(near Roma). His 2 brothers & cousin were farming about 20,000 acres with millions of $s of equipment & barely breaking even. We could have had half the houses in the district to tear down. When my friend had grown up there, there were dances, race meetings, etc. Now nothing. All the young people move away. These country towns might have a pub(sometimes) & petrol station/convenience store. For a doctor, bank, grocery, whatever you have to go 50-100 kms.Global weirding & more expensive fuel will finish what the economy & marginal soil have started. I can see the area perhaps going back to what it was 100 years ago with wide ranging cattle grazing & droving them to a rail head,unless the temperature goes much higher. Camels?
Cheers, Steve

barath said...

JMG, Sacred Economics is a curious book -- it has several interesting ideas and some thoughtful analysis of current economic systems. It almost slips into New Age nonsense here and there, but Eisenstein pulls back from the brink each time. Oddly enough, he does actually have a point in using the term 'sacred', a point that I didn't quite expect going in.

The book has some flaws that are worth knowing going in so that they don't make you want to put it down after two chapters. First, it's repetitive. Second, it's too optimistic about prospects for the future in many different ways (but this was at times refreshing, because it allowed the author to focus on constructive ideas rather than doomerism).

It would be interesting to see you and another author, Chris Hedges, chat sometime. You both appear to me, more than any other two authors/thinkers out there that I know of, to be painting on the same canvas of thought, but from your very different backgrounds (Hedges being a long-time war correspondent). His style is very different than yours, but I think there would be great value in seeing a cross-fertilization. His recent book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is worth a read. Here's a recent talk he gave: The Myth of Human Progress and the Collapse of Complex Societies.

Phil Harris said...

Hi Chris
Our local dust storms a few years ago just this side of the eastern end of the Scottish Border were too local to count for much. At least I am not aware of any studies.

There is no comparison then with the complex severe conditions on the US Great Plains in the 1930s. In that case it was not just misuse of cropland that played a role, but to a large extent drought itself. Dust storms could have been one of the 'normal' ecological events for these zones. Such things you only find out when you try to inabit and farm in these zones? See again that book I quoted by Geoff Cunfer.

We seem to be discovering all over again in Britain that building, however modernised, on flood plains (or on eroding coastlines) does have consequences.Big drains and big pumps can only do so much.


JP said...


"One final anecdote: also at the 1st Buddhist Geeks conference, a speaker told about laboratory studies on long-time meditation practitioners (ten years and more.) The staff doing the testing found that some of those practitioners were incredibly sweet and caring, but a substantial number of them were QUITE unlikable and difficult people to get along with. This took the staff and the investigators totally by surprise; it was not something they were even investigating, but they found it impossible not to notice."

This surprised them?

To me, it's an expected outcome.

And you can get much worse than merely "unlikable and difficult".

Granted, I don't know the *cause* of this outcome, but I know that it's an outcome in a certain percentage of people.

Although your point makes me suspect that it is a more significant percentage than I first suspected if they noticed it enough times to be bothered by it.

Do you have any kind of citation where I can see some reported data?

At some point, I will need to start my treatise, I suppose.

And something like this will need to be included.

MawKernewek said...


Over here the media tries to put a brave face on it, what happens once a quarter they announce the unemployment statistics and say the rate has gone down, the economy is growing (confusing a quarterly growth rate, with a annualised percentage growth) etc.

Meanwhile cuts to various things continue, local councils seem to be the current target.

Iuval Clejan said...

I read some of Sacred Economics and liked it because I like the idea and practice of a gift economy, a discussion of which is a main part of the book. Though I don't worship the increasing material abundance and technological improvement "heads" of the God of Progress, I do like the moral improvement "head", which was born with the Jewish prophets and continued with the radical branches of Christianity. Both Chris Hedges and Charles Eisenstein are leaves on those branches. Gandhi, though not officially a Christian, was also in the same tradition and his main economist, J.C. Kumarappa was a Christian.

What is the difference between wishful thinking and faith? None of these people denied that injustice, cruelty, hubris, greed and oppression exist, but they had a faith that there is something good (sacred, divine) in Man that is worth encouraging and fighting for. Man as the nurturer of and participant in nature, not as conqueror. Do you think that this faith keeps intact the moral head of the god of Progress, or is it something else?

There is a part of Sacred Economics that professes a faith I don't share, the faith that a large section of humanity will adopt a gift economy.

Unknown said...

@JP, Bryan Allen here. Apologies for my identity showing me as "unknown" in my previous comment on meditation; thought using my Google account would just show who I am. Anyway, your question about who the researcher was who I talked to at the 2011 BGeeks conference: just checked my notes, and I didn't write down his name. Auggh! But here's the transcript of one of the speakers there who talked about several researchers doing investigations into meditation practices:

I think the researcher I talked to MAY have been Norman Farb, but am definitely NOT sure. I suspect the speaker whose transcript is on that link above (Kelly McGonigal) might know.

Googleing 'Norman Farb mindfulness meditation' yields several papers on various aspects of meditation, with both novice and experienced practitioners. Sorry I can't find the exact paper mentioning the unlikable experienced meditators, but I'm not sure it's the sort of thing a scientist would publish in a journal article anyway; seems more appropriate for a book.

And as for the staff and scientists being surprised: shrug, so many people thank that meditation is something one does to de-stress, feel good, and relax. Though that can be one set of the benefits, it's certainly not the only effect!

steve pearson said...

Just to finish my last thought train.Yeah, Auckland is a beauty, all of NZ actually, though the same folks(us?) are doing their best to frack that as well.Was talking with David Holmgren & Joe Palascher at the Auckland Eco-show(2003). Joe was mentioning a study, that I can't remember, that only NZ and one other country(probably Chile or Uruguay) could support their present population or more without fossil fuel resources. The sustainable figure they gave for Australia was 8,000,000. Don't know if that assumed permaculture or conventional ag.
Haven't talked to my friends in Qld for a few months.They are right at the headwaters of the Mary, so they should be as good as possible.
Auckland, which I was just mentioning or Honolulu, where I now live are prime examples of the difference between much of the anglosphere and Finland or many other countries.We are generations into multiculturalism. This is not a choice we can make now. We sink or swim with this. As they say, you fight the war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had.Personally I am much happier spending these years living in this situation than the one you prefer, but I am glad there is still room in the world for both.

k-dog said...


You said:

"I venture to guess that nearly any American would agree that all human beings have inherent worth. It doesn't seem to stop us from bombing one country after another, so long as we don't see much of it."

Yes they will agree but they are not being honest. They will agree 'in a perfect world' sort of way. You know this yourself because you said: "so long as we don't see much of it." at the end of your statement. Seeing betrays the lie so it can't be seen.

Americans can say all human beings have inherent worth but the problem is they see themselves as entitled and will tack an unspoken 'but some have more worth than others' at the end of their thought like they did when making treaties with American Indians. Fine words on paper but in considering the written or spoken word of Americans we must always consider that which is not written or said. As long as one thinks that some have more inherent worth than others one really can't think that all human beings have inherent worth. But one can believe their own lie. As the rivers flow and the grass shall grow here you may hunt but without blinking an eye a silent but when the sawmill comes no more fish will there be for you is added at the end in invisible ink no one can see.

Our history abounds with expression of some are more equal than others. On bright sunny peacefully days the differences level out and the fiction that we have real equality is easily enough believed but since it isn't real it never lasts. As soon as there is a cloud in the sky it's back to every man earns his own way. I've got mine now you go get yours and leave mine to me. That's the true American way. So two-faced and duplicitous are we, we can't even admit it to ourselves.

I've written a dark expression of our inverted totalitarian way of life and the truth is not so black and white. There are saints and devils among us and if enough of us can begin seeing the world as it really is we can have another day. With enough thinking right those that don't think will think right too.

We are the only animal who can assess our situation and decide to consume less, reproduce less, and make agreements with others of our kind that they are not less than we, that we are all in this together. For united we stand and divided we fall.

Janet D said...

" On the other hand the permanently degrading slum scenario is perfectly believable, because we can all see it happening, right now, all around us. The only question is will it stop, and nobody has anything convincing to say it will."

This reminds me of what was one of my "waking up" moments, when I traveled to the SE U.S. on a trip with my husband and I realized that it was like absolutely every other region that I had traveled to in the U.S. - the same suburbs; omnipresent (and endless) strip malls with big box stores, fast-food hybrids, and small "service" businesses (aka salons, gyms, & low-budget retail outlets); roads and parking lots everywhere filled with rabid SUV drivers, all interspersed with a few small greenbelts/parks/historical sites (which could only be reached by car).

It's really sad - it's just an empty, meaningless, 'fracked-up' way to live, and yet continuation of that is considered "progress".

I attended a talk by a local Native American elder last week. It was at a quilt/heritage museum and it was about the plants & animals that the natives used for everything from clothing, furniture, baskets, housing, food, etc. What I was struck by was how nearly ALL of what was used to support a thriving populace pre-contact is now GONE. It made me wonder what people are going to live on with the eventual decrease in cheap fossil fuels. It's not like there is anything to go back to. Might be a hard lesson in "what man does to nature he does to himself" (my paraphrase of the famous Native American quote).

Janet D said...

My son is memorizing this for our homeschooling. It seemed especially fitting for the most recent blog topics. I'm sure several (many?) here are quite familiar with it.

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that is sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Crow Hill said...

Meditation can be dangerous for you:

What about mindfulness, which I practice on my own as much as I can (Jon Kabat-Zinn etc)? I feel mindfulness cannot be worse than the normal constant brainstorm of zillions of thoughts a minute. My main concern is that somehow stopping it by mindfulness/mediation would make me less able to function in the world as it is with all its social obligations.

Still I would also be interested in looking at references on the dangers. One could imagine that recircuiting the neurons could lead to…short circuits in some cases.

Bogatyr said...

@Crow Hill - re: the dangers of meditation.

1) One of the earliest effects of meditation that I experienced was the sudden resurfacing of suppressed memories and emotions. These were mostly negative - embarrassment, anger, shame, and so on. I was on retreat with the Goenka school, who prepare students for this thoroughly, by cultivating non-attachment. By the time the memories surface, the students are able to allow these extremely intense flashbacks to pass by, without re-engaging with them. I can imagine that if a self-taught meditator managed to access suppressed memories without being able to let go of them, it could be very destabilising.

2) Long practice in meditation allows very profound control over the physical processes of the body. One example recently confirmed by science is that monks are able to control core body temperature. This kind of thing is far beyond the ability of most non-meditators, and can seem 'magical'. If a meditator has reached this level without taming their ego, he or she risks believing in their own 'superpowers'.

3) Meditation trains individuals in seeing things as they are. At first this means removing the influence of our own desires and fears. Later, it can mean removing some of the mental filters imposed by our native culture - which can mean becoming far more sensitive to some of the energies and entities that exist in this reality, but which we don't normally allow ourselves to see. If we happen to encounter these, even if they are benign or indifferent, simply the fact of the experience will mark you out as being "mad" if you try to tell anyone else; being set aside from other people like this is in itself a challenge.

MawKernewek said...

About the Easter Island collapse, what may appeal to people about a fast collapse idea, is that generally a crash overshoots on the downside, allowing for a degree of recovery. With people being wiser, then perhaps they can avoid the same disaster again, or at least that's the hope.

PRiZM said...

The Great Man is dead, and thus as the myth of progress begins winding down a new myth will arise, as you've laid out for us. This past few months, this idea of the "little man" has kept making himself known to me. The little man, as he has made himself known to me, is a simple man not interested in ideas of grander but instead in family, the environment, and helping others. This idea could easily be misused, as has been done by politicians (Joe the Plumber comes to mind), or consumerists trying to market "green" items, but the little man prefers to make and reuse, conserve and preserve. Perhaps it's not in-line with your line of thinking, but then again it may be, and a new myth could use some direction, and I think the little man could be a possible symbol of this, rising from the ashes of Great Man. Some story could be developed, following the lines of old myths, but I think especially taking some inspirations from Russian stories which so often have simple, even silly boys/young men becoming heroes. Writing is not a strength of mine, especially fictional... but after reading your satire in the previous post, which was something you admitted as not being a strength of yours, and Star's Reach, I'm given some inspiration to at least attempt it. Lastly, JMG I am curious about Krampus ... I've run across him many times of late and curious if you've had any communication with him as the solstice draws nigh?

Matthew Casey Smallwood said...

JMG wrote "Thus Man the Conqueror of Nature could expire because enough people notice that the great war against nature has ended in total defeat, or he might expire because the social, political, and economic forms that support and are supported by that mythic figure become so obviously unworkable that other forms, backed up by different images, take their place."

You know, this is exactly what the paleoconservative narrative says, except it is not rhetorically suited for the intended audience.

Juhana said...

Hi Chris! Sorry it took so much time to give answer to your comment. I have been very busy lately, and it is dark here right now,adding to this tired atmosphere around. Today sun rose at 9:18 AM and set down at 2:50 PM. Length of the day was 5 hours and 32 minutes, before darkness of the night fell again...

I honestly believe that if we could go to talk and drink couple of beers in local pub, we would be on the same page about many things. As that is not an option, thanks for thought-provoking comments in this forum. Still, I have feeling that voting Right does not mean same thing for you and me. I believe that radical re-localization is already under the way, and holding dysfunctional ideas about globalism and over-specialization shall leave untold numbers of people hungry, permanently out workforce and angry in the current developed world. The nationalist Right of European nations traditionally wants to bring back capital controls, customs barriers and close borders, and all these are essential ingredients if we want softest possible falling from extremist, hyper-velocity globalism to more sustainable local markets and production. As made clear in this following article, jumping out of globalist bandwagon greatly reduces rights of both individuals and institutions to waste wealth. Tragedy of commons can be avoided only by tight control. I know, my country used capital controls policy up to 90's, and I firmly believe it was grave mistake firstplace to go "western".

Anglosphere pseudo-conservative Right is so out of my world that I honestly don't even understand what they are speaking about. Some kind odd blend of pseudo-darwinism and free markets cult, maybe. Real world re-localization shall look inward looking and narrow-minded for current Westerners, brainwashed as they are by extremist globalist ideology. If you don't buy my words about it, just go to places that are currently truly local in their market and production. No hipster post-modern alienation to be found there, believe me. And no open-mindness towards alien customs and ideas.

Crow Hill said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with meditation. I’m specially interested in
”3) Meditation trains individuals in seeing things as they are. At first this means removing the influence of our own desires and fears. Later, it can mean removing some of the mental filters imposed by our native culture”, less keen about the energies and entities, but still one has to remain open to what is. I feel the tangible world is already so rich and amazing. Another point: we are always alone with our own internal experience of life: it cannot be shared.

Although I’m not a fan of globalization, i.e. the spread of a consumerist monoculture of corporate products, I feel now the process, which started unfurling after World War II, should be completed, so that everyone in the world can be on a more or less level playing field and able to communicate on the same wavelength. Anyway it’s unstoppable, what with the internet for instance. The Archdruid Report is a positive example of globalization: we communicate in the universal lingua franca whilst living in all the continents of the world.

Mark said...

May I make a late comment on the meditation-mindfulness issue, via-a-vis JMG's post? I assume the approaching brick wall, and the idea of progress, are both metaphorical, and unavoidable. Then, at some point, it will have been to late to learn any of the many meditation techniques current. Then, mindfulness will be of some use to those who have learned meditation and practised mindfulness, to the degree they are open-hearted.

All of the presently practised religious faiths will also be useful to the degree the person is open-hearted. I very much enjoyed the phrase, "the presently unfashionable intellectual humility" (? not quite exact?) because such humility is a gate to open-heartedness.

I saw such an attitude at work, when I spent 3 months working with a Japanese blacksmith, a follower of the Rivers and Mountains school of Buddhism. When chopping up charcoal, there is much to appreciate. In shaping a blade, there is no perfect, ideal shape. The material has it's own integrity, it's own spirit, and if you respect it, it will remember, and if you don't it will remember. To work with it, you need to appreciate it, be open to it, let it cut you to the heart.

Then, be mindful of the meditation of the material. The work, the focus, the process, the hammer and anvil, are all comfortable in a great open heart, Then, relax and look out the door for awhile, where the local universe is also working.